The great commission

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he called four men to be his disciples that were fishermen. Matthew recorded in his gospel that Peter and Andrew were the first two men that Jesus invited to follow him. He said, “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20). Peter’s enthusiasm to serve the Lord was probably diminished by his realization that death would most likely be the end result of his devotion to Christ. After he denied three times having anything to do with Jesus’ ministry, “Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62), maybe because he could see the look of disappointment on Jesus’ face when he heard Peter lie about being his disciple (Luke 22:60-61).

It was probably Peter’s denial of him that caused Jesus to go to greater lengths to restore his fellowship with this particular apostle. First on the road to Emmaus, then in a locked room where his disciples were hiding out, Jesus reiterated God’s plan of salvation and explained the important role Peter and the other apostles were to play in his ministry in the coming months and years (Luke 24:25-26, 46-49). Peter’s natural leadership ability and influence on the other apostles was probably what caused him to be singled out by Satan and tempted to forsake his master (Luke 22:31). John reported that Jesus’ final appearance took place at the sea of Tiberias where Peter and some of the other disciples had gone to fish. He said, “There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing” (John 21:2-3).

Jesus chose this point in time to confront Peter with his responsibility to carry out the great commission of preaching his gospel to the whole world. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). John’s version of this assignment focused on the forgiveness of sins. He stated, “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace by unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). Peter’s failed fishing trip may have been Jesus’ way of reminding him that his first priority was to be preaching the gospel. After Jesus enable Peter to catch more fish than he was able to carry in his boat (John 21:11), Jesus asked Peter this question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” (John 21:15). Although his meaning wasn’t perfectly clear, Jesus was most likely referring to the 153 fish that Peter was now in possession of. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention on the lost souls that needed God’s word preached to them, whom he referred to as his baby sheep or lambs, and then, Jesus admonished Peter to, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).

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