Sermons from San Diego

Puzzled by Life: Peter Expected to Find Death

March 31, 2024 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ Season 3 Episode 11
Puzzled by Life: Peter Expected to Find Death
Sermons from San Diego
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Sermons from San Diego
Puzzled by Life: Peter Expected to Find Death
Mar 31, 2024 Season 3 Episode 11
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

Listen to the story of Peter from the beginning to Jesus' post-resurrection question:  Do you love me?

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Show Notes Transcript

Listen to the story of Peter from the beginning to Jesus' post-resurrection question:  Do you love me?

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from Mission Hills UCC

San Diego, California


Rev. Dr. David Bahr


March 31, 2024


“Puzzled by Life”


Luke 24: 1-12 – The Message

At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus.

4-8 They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.

9-11 They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.

12 But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.


The women were puzzled.  Peter was puzzled, too, and left the empty tomb shaking his head.  “Well, I guess that’s it.”  An odd response for a guy who has always been impulsive, emotional, known for saying whatever he thinks in the moment only to discover he stuck his foot in his mouth big time.  How could he just walk away puzzled?  Peter’s an interesting character who, give him credit, tried really hard and sometimes had moments of great insight followed by moments of complete failure to understand.  In other words, fortunately, he’s a lot like us.


It all started one morning after a night of fishing but catching no fish.  Peter and his partners were bone tired, washing their nets before heading home to sleep.  On shore, there was a commotion.  A crowd was pressing in to listen to a traveling preacher.  The guy asked Peter to row out a little way so he could talk to the crowd.  Peter reluctantly obliged, but he actually owed the guy a favor.  Just a few nights before, he came over for dinner and before it even began, healed Peter’s mother-in-law.  But then he asked Peter for an even bigger favor.  Row out, throw your nets back in and try again.  Peter complained that they were exhausted, but OK.  And when they did as Jesus said, so many fish jumped into the nets that they started pulling the boats down.  But what was Peter’s response to all this abundance?  Not gratitude.  Not, “hey, can you come back tomorrow and do this again?”  No, he told Jesus, “Get away from me.  I'm not worthy of this.”  Jesus said, “Get over yourself and come follow me.”  He immediately dropped everything for the vague promise to now “fish for people.”  Peter was all in, not knowing at all what he was in for.


He was all in.  One time, Jesus sent his disciples out ahead to cross the Sea of Galilee while he stayed behind to have some alone time.  In the morning, Jesus set out to rejoin the disciples.  Meanwhile, out in the middle of the lake, the disciples were in full panic.  Violent winds and waves threatened to swamp the boat.  While they are hanging on for dear life, one of them with his head over the side emptying the contents of his stomach noticed something that looked like a ghost coming toward them.  They shrieked in fear, but Jesus said, “Hey guys, it’s just me”  Then, without really thinking about it, Peter told Jesus, “Command me to come to you on the water.”  “Sure, come on in.”  Peter boldly stepped out of the boat and began walking but when he realized he was actually walking on water, he freaked out and began to sink.  He cried out to Jesus, “Rescue me!”  Jesus did and asked, “Why’d you doubt?  You were doing it!  Why have you so little faith?”


A little while later, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  And then he turned to Peter, “Who do you say that I am.”  He replied, “You are the Messiah” and Jesus told Peter, “You’re right!  You got it, Peter!”  And then immediately, like two minutes later, Peter got it completely wrong.   Jesus told his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the religious leaders and the Roman Empire, that he would be killed and then be raised up alive on the third day.
But Peter wasn’t willing to hear of such a thing and took hold of Jesus and began scolding him.  “God forbid, Lord!  This can’t happen to you.”  But Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan.”  

Peter expected a messiah who would vindicate them and punish their enemies.  Someone who would promise “I am your retribution” – not someone who would be killed.  Not a messiah who would suffer.  That represents failure.  But it turns out, all that love stuff Jesus kept talking about, he actually meant – that’s how we save the world, not through violence for violence, not through hate for hate, not evil for evil.  


So anyway, as they moved toward Jerusalem, Jesus continued to repeat what would happen to him, but then said something even worse.  Jesus told Peter that when all these things were happening, he would deny him three times.  Peter blurted out, “Never!  I would never ever do such a thing.  I’ll die alongside you before I deny you.”  Let’s see how long he can hold on to that promise.


It was shortly after that Jesus took Peter and two others to pray with him in a garden.  All he asked them to do was stay awake while he prayed.  Instantly they fell asleep.  Jesus came back and asked why they couldn’t stay awake for me, for just one hour?  Jesus told them to stay awake while went back to pray.  They fell asleep again.  Three times this happened, but it gets worse.


Just then, their eyes still sleepy, soldiers came to arrest Jesus, tipped off to his whereabouts by one of his own disciples who betrayed him with a kiss.  In response, Peter grabbed a sword and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers.  Jesus rebuked the use of violence.  Do you still not understand?  Do you still not understand what kind of messiah I am?  Jesus had compassion and healed the soldier’s ear and was then led off to appear before the authorities.


But before Jesus could even reach out his hand, Peter and the others vanished, trying to avoid being arrested too.  He tried to hide in the crowd but someone noticed him and said, “You were with him.”  “No, I wasn’t.”  Someone else said, “I saw him too.”  “I don’t even know who that man is.”  Questioned a third time, Peter said emphatically, “I told you.  I don’t know that man.”  And just then, Peter heard the rooster crow, just like Jesus had said it would, and he broke down in tears.


During the sham trials and false testimony that followed, not a single one of his disciples stood up in his defense.  So much for Peter’s bravado about standing alongside him, to even die with him.  As Jesus was whipped and mocked, he couldn’t look into the crowd to see even one sympathetic disciple among the Twelve.  They were absent as he was forced to drag the instrument of his own execution down the street.  As he hung from that cross, only the women held vigil and when they took Jesus down off the cross, they paid attention to where they put his body so they could come back after the Sabbath and prepare him for a proper burial.  


That’s when they discovered his body was missing and they were puzzled.  Who could have taken it?  But they were reminded of what Jesus had been saying all along and they believed and they raced to tell the other disciples.  He is risen!  The men didn’t believe a word of it.  An idle tale, they said, which is just cleaned up language for what the disciples really thought:  Garbage.  BS, actually.  


However, at least Peter’s curiosity was sparked.  He ran to see for himself.  He looked into the same tomb and was puzzled.  He didn’t run back to tell the disciples.  He simply walked away shaking his head.  An odd response since Peter’s usual comeback was to overreact, act impulsively, make impossible promises, stick his foot in his mouth.  For him to simply be puzzled is completely out of character.


I understand it, though.  The women and Peter were puzzled because the events of that morning didn’t fit their expectations.  Why wouldn’t they be puzzled?  Life doesn’t follow death.  Death follows death.  They looked in and expected to see evidence of death.  All they saw was some grave clothes but no dead and decaying body.  


On the other side of his death, Jesus appeared to the disciples a few times including one morning when he pulled Peter aside and asked him three questions.  Three questions representing the things that mattered to Jesus.


First of all, he didn’t ask, “Peter, do you believe my mother was a virgin?”  

He didn’t ask, “Do you believe all the miracles happened exactly as they will be written down when the story is told?”  

He didn’t ask, “Peter, do you believe in the bodily resurrection?”  


He asked, “Do you love me?”  Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  And he asked again, “Peter, do you love me.”  “Yes, I just told you,” wondering if Jesus may have been holding a grudge for all those misunderstandings, and continually falling asleep, and using violence against the soldier.  Oh yeah, those three denials and ultimate abandonment.  


Jesus asked a third time, “Peter, do you love me?”  “Jesus, why do you keep asking me.  Don’t you believe me?”  


Jesus didn’t make it any more complicated than that, even though the church makes Easter perhaps the most complicated day in the whole year.  We ask questions like, was Jesus really resurrected?  How?  Did Jesus actually walk on water?  And we try to explain.  But does it matter?  All that mattered to Jesus was, do you love me?  And if so, then feed my sheep.  Do you love me?  Then tend to the poor, the captive, those yearning for liberation, those grieving painful loss, all my people – the peacemakers, the pure in heart, those who hunger and thirst for justice.  Do you love me?  Then take care of each other.


The life and teachings, the death and resurrection of Jesus teach us: 

Love isn’t a feeling.  It’s how we treat one another.

Love isn’t just for the loveable.  It’s for those hardest to love.

Love is a sacrifice.  But, Jesus said, I’ve just shown you how.  I’ve shown you the kind of love that prevails.


Do you love him?  Then love one another.  That’s it.  Be the love you want to see in the world.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  Be the hope the world needs to hear today.