And when Simon Peter saw [this], he fell down on [his] knees before Jesus saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Jesus’ reputation is spreading. He had just healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and people were now flocking to him, wanting to hear him teach and, no doubt, see him perform other miracles. At this point in the story, the crowds had become so large, they were pressing in on him and making it difficult for him to address everyone. Since they are near the Gennesaret lake, where Simon had his boats, he climbed into one of them and pushed it a little way from shore so he could address the whole crowd. After speaking, he tells Simon to let down the nets. Simon says that they’d been fishing all night and caught nothing, but nevertheless, he does it. The resulting catch of fish overflows into two boats, nearly sinking them both. It is when Simon Peter sees this miracle that he tells Jesus to leave him, because he is a sinful man.
The question I want to pose to you is this: what sin did Simon Peter commit? He declared himself to be a “sinful man,” but what has he done in this context to deserve this self-condemnation? One might point to his initial reaction when Jesus told him to let down the nets. But if you read the passage carefully, you will see that he merely noted the fact that they had been unable to catch anything all night. He may have had doubts that they would catch anything now, and under normal circumstances, he may well have been correct. His was hardly the doubt of Judas, who refused to believe Jesus had risen until he actually saw and felt the evidence. Indeed, Simon Peter put aside his reservations and obeyed. In that act of obedience, one could argue that Simon Peter showed faith–real faith. He didn’t know what Jesus had planned; he just trusted against his own instincts and common sense.
So, again, what was Simon Peter’s sin? I think the answer lies in his action and his exclamation. Notice that he falls on his knees to Jesus, and he then calls him Lord. What happened to Simon Peter was that he realized that he had just had an encounter with the divine. His eyes were opened to the truth, and he fell apart. In that moment, he saw Jesus for who he really is, and he saw himself in comparison. He knew he wasn’t worthy to stand in Jesus’ presence. He knew the one he was prostrating before was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. Compared to Jesus, Simon Peter was filth, and he knew it.
Simon Peter’s story shows us the nature of true repentance. We cannot truly bow the knee to Jesus and not recognize our own sin. Have you thought why it was that no-one else had the same reaction? Where were the crowds of people on their knees crying out because of their sin? We find the answer to this in Matthew 16:16-17, where Peter makes a clear profession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus tells him that this understanding came to him as revelation from God. I believe Luke 5:8 was the point in time when the Lord began moving on Peter’s heart, and showing him the truth that he would later express in Matthew 16. And that initial revelation was to the necessity of repentance. Peter needed to recognize and acknowledge his own sinfulness in the face of the divine. He needed to understand to the core of his being that he was unworthy of even being in the presence of Jesus.
Finally, we should note two things about Jesus’ reaction. First, he didn’t reject Peter’s worship. He didn’t tell Peter to get up and stop committing blasphemy. Jesus knew who he was; this was a silent declaration of deity. And secondly, rather than turn Peter away, he commissioned him, telling him he would “catch men,” that is, be a witness for him as one of his disciples.
When we bow the knee to Jesus, like Peter, we must do so acknowledging his sinless perfection in the face of our sinfulness. We must recognize his divine status, that he is worthy of our worship and adoration. And then we must accept his commission, to be his witnesses, and to serve him as our Lord and Savior. I pray this would be true for everyone reading these words.
Have a great week!