The Bare Soul
May 29, 2011
Mark 14:54 - Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire.
Many of us probably have some pleasant memories of our times around a campfire. Whether we participated in Scouting as children, or camped with our respective families, most of us have some type of memory of feeling the warmth and glow of a fire at the end of a day of hiking or simply at a campsite. Fire is a critical tool when bivouacking in the outdoors. Not only does it provide needed warmth and a means to cook food, but it also offers a sense of security as it chases away the specters in the night, either real or imagined. Through the millennia, the campfire has been a place to collectively share a meal, enjoy some familial or communal togetherness, and to also gather in numbers to create security and a sense of camaraderie amongst those so inclined. The warmth of a fire can often be analogous to those sharing in its flame. This was probably the case in biblical times when Peter stumbled into the courtyard of the High Priest that momentous night nearly 2,000 years ago. We are told in the Gospels that the temple guards and the servants had built a fire in the courtyard, possibly believing it would be a long night. They may have desired a place to retreat to from the inquest occurring just off of the courtyard in possibly an open-air room where Jesus was being questioned. We are told that Peter found this more desirable, to be at a safe distance away from his Lord's harsh interrogation. So, he retreated to a place that would soon reveal his heart toward the One he had hours before made loud attestation regarding his fidelity.
Our lead verse reveals Peter's attitude of self-preservation as he "followed Him at a distance". No longer was he the brash, out-spoken disciple of the previous evening, filled with bravado and contempt regarding anything less than stalwart allegiance to the Savior. Mark's portrayal of the soon-to-be leader of the new Christian movement was less than complimentary. Of all biblical characterizations of Simon Peter, this was Peter depicted at his worst. Since the company around the fire consisted of both servants (or slaves) and officers (probably temple guards), Peter would be able to blend in unrecognized by those sharing the fire's warmth (John 18:18). Or would he? Peter was counting on the fact that he could easily dismiss his affiliation with the Lord Jesus and to once again mingle with those of the world like he had three years earlier before meeting Jesus. However, he hadn't counted on being noticeably different from those who sought camaraderie around the glow of the fire's embers. This well-known story regarding Peter the protagonist is made known only by the servant girl as the antagonist that betrays Peter's true intentions to those sharing the fire as well as to the Lord Himself (Luke 22:55-61). With Peter's thrice denial of the Lord, he more than likely understood at a deeper level that he had no business sharing the warmth of this fire with those who were at best indifferent to his Lord, and more than likely sympathetic to the high priest's position. With the realization that truly Satan had "sifted him like wheat" as Jesus had prophesied earlier that night (Luke 22:31), Peter was truly at rock bottom and could do nothing but weep in despair over his betrayal (Luke 22:62).
The scripture does not tell us where Peter went after his betrayal of the Lord. From the Gospels, we know that only John was present at the crucifixion (John 19:26-27). We can only speculate that Peter regrouped with the other disciples and remained with them until the Lord's resurrection (Luke 24:9; John 20:19). If that is the case, then this would make sense with his abrupt departure from the high priest's courtyard. Peter had come to realize that he no longer could "fellowship" with the world. Even those of the world, such as the servant girl, recognized Peter to have been with Jesus. Even though Peter tried to blend in, he could not because too much of Jesus had affected his life both outwardly and inwardly. Peter talked like a Galilean which was what clinched the servant girl's opinion that Simon was one of Jesus' disciples (Mark 14:70). We understand this as being a visual recognition of Peter and his association with Jesus. Was it just a physical recollection in the servant girl's mind, or was there something strikingly like Jesus that she saw in Peter's demeanor? After all, he had been with his Lord for three years. Had not Peter reflected his Lord's character enough to have given just a glimpse to these who were at best indifferent to what happened to Jesus and His disciple Peter? We can only assume that the recognition was on the physical level, but also conjecture that there was something she also saw of Christ in the beleaguered Simon Peter.
As Christ's present day disciples, we must also ask ourselves: Do we follow Christ from a distance when it comes to identifying with our own cross to carry? Jesus will never insist that we follow Him, take up our cross, and endure its death -- day in and day out. He will merely glance back as he did with Peter to see if we are warming ourselves by the fires of this world, thus denying His life within us. To love the world is to declare hostility toward God, beloved. We can not fellowship and have camaraderie with the world one day and then go and back-slap Jesus the next day in church like He is our best friend. The warmth of the fires of this world are indifferent if not hostile to our God. So, why would we seek to betray our Lord by seeking out associations that will never fulfill? The Lord Jesus Christ has promised a fire that will not be quenched, full of His holy love that will dwell in the heart of every believer that would but trust in Him. May we not turn toward the warmth that the world offers that will only promote mockery toward our God. May we seek Jesus and the Eternal Fire that He desires to grow in all those He calls His own.
Heavenly Father, may the fire You have lit within all those who know you not be quenched, but may it grow into an inferno of love for You and others. May we shun the warmth of the fires of this world that would only seek to draw us into indifference, apathy, and even hostility toward Your Son. Continue to fan the flame of holiness and love within our souls. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Your Barefoot Servant,
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