Our bodies often lead our hearts into trouble. Our hearts are wicked according to the Word so they get into enough trouble by themselves. Our physical nature, though, often don’t help the situation. Whether it be fatigue, cold, thirst or hunger, the desire to satisfy our flesh can put us in places we should not be and subtly lead us astray. The simple impulse to not be uncomfortable can result in unthinking actions that end in great compromise. The most dangerous cravings of the flesh can be the everyday ones.
Peter was just going to warm himself by the fire. He was cold so it made perfect sense. He had come to the house of the High Priest the night Jesus is put on trial with good intentions. Everyone but John had abandoned Jesus when He was seized in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Peter wouldn’t abandon Him. He had gone so far as to boast that he would follow Jesus even to the death just a few short hours before. Peter would stick with Jesus even if it meant going into the mouth of the lion or so he proclaims proudly.
Then, an interesting thing occurs. The Gospel accounts mention that there was a fire made by the servants and the officers of the High Priest in the courtyard. A crowd was around this fire warming themselves. This group was the same people who had just arrested Jesus unlawfully. They had ignored the very clear warning in the Garden when they were knocked off their feet by the power of Jesus’ words – I AM. They were determined in their opposition to God and complicit in the plot against Jesus. They were not on Peter’s side.
Yet, Peter is cold so he goes and gathers with them around the fire. If we have ever been around a fire on a cold night, we know there is intimacy in the gathering. It is a small group sharing the warmth of a common fire. Peter huddles up with the men he was trying to fight off just a few minutes before. They were in the process of killing Jesus.
His desire for physical comfort led him to stand among the enemies of Jesus.
Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.
This same desire for physical comfort had led to similar results just before this when Jesus was praying in the Garden. The disciples were asked by Jesus to pray during the darkest hours of the night. It was a time of terrible torment for Jesus when He could have used all the support possible.
All they needed to do was stay awake and pray. Yet, they were too tired to do so. Their desire for sleep outweighed their desire to intercede for the One they loved. They choose to respond to the complaints of their flesh rather than the call of their Lord. They slept soundly while Jesus was praying in anguish.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
This decision then has terrible consequences for Peter. One person asks if he is with Jesus and Peter denies it. A second asks and then a third accuse him of being a Jesus follower. This is not an immediate bombardment of questions. It takes place over what appears to be hours. Yet, Peter continues to stand with those out to kill Jesus. He is determined to be warm and blend in with the army of the world. Each time he is accused as time passes, he seemingly denies the charge of being with Jesus with increasing vigor.
And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!”
Peter doesn’t ever move away from the fire until the damage is done. He stays among the enemy until it leads him to a terrible place. Peter denies Jesus. He does finally realizes what he is doing and flees, weeping bitterly as he goes. It is only after falling dramatically that Peter leaves the warmth of his enemy’s fire.
Warming ourselves around is a fire is not a bad thing. Taking care of our bodily needs is healthy. Deliberately injuring ourselves like they did in the Middle Ages in a perverted attempt to force holiness is not at all what Jesus has in mind for us. But when Jesus tells us that we must take up our crosses and follow Him, the desire for an always comfortable life is included. The cross is an instrument of death. We are called to carry one every day in order to put to death the things that would lead us away from Jesus.
I had a flu shot recently. As is my usual, the following day I woke up feeling like I was kicked by a mule. Every part of my body was aching with the mini flu and all I wanted to do was sleep. The problem was I had a meeting that day that the Lord had put upon my heart to set up. I knew that the Lord wanted me there but my body was rebelling. My choice was clear. Choose comfort and rest or take up my cross and follow where Jesus led trusting that He would not ask if it was not necessary. My body and my bed were the enemies and I needed to step away from them in order to serve the Lord.
I did and it was one of the best meetings I have been involved with. God was praised in mighty ways. But my desire for comfort and rest had to be nailed to my personal cross that day in order to see the Lord’s will be done.
We often forget when discussing Peter’s denial the fact John was in the courtyard of the High Priest too. He identifies himself as a follower of Jesus and is likely just as cold as Peter. John just keeps his purpose and his Lord always before him during the time. He is therefore not distracted and compromised by creature comforts. John is faithful all the way to the foot of the Cross. It’s quite a contrast. John following Jesus to the foot of the Cross. Peter fleeing with bitter tears flowing down his cheeks.
Where do we want to be?