When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Simon Peter is perhaps one of the more notable disciples of Christ during his 3-and-a-half years of ministry, who became one of the more important apostles of the early church days. Peter is often noted for his bravery and his faith – his blind, Christian faith that roots itself very strongly in the strength of God. His faith was beyond his time, and though he has been reprimanded by Christ to be a man of little faith [Matthew 14: 31|Article], though he was eventually a man who denied Christ three times and repented for it, it is perhaps undeniable that Peter’s faith was exemplary, even amongst the disciples or the apostles. In Luke 5 we trace all the way back to the beginning of this faith, and what prompted such a strong, unwavering and sustained faith in Peter himself.
We know that Peter first met Jesus when Christ healed his mother-in-law [Luke 4:38-39]. When Jesus went to a solitary place to pray after healing many, Peter was amongst those who went to look for him, as everybody is looking for you [Mark 1:37]. At this point Peter was perhaps already indebted to Jesus – when Jesus wanted to teach the people from the boat, Peter was the one who rowed the boat. When Peter was told to let down the nets, he was doubtful of it – Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything [Luke 5:5]. Peter was a fisherman by trade. He knew his lakes, he knew his fish. Jesus was a nobody when it came to the topic of fish. Even if he had healed many, he was an outsider on the trade of fish. But out of respect for Jesus, who had healed his mother-in-law, amongst many, Peter let down the net – But because you say so, I will let down the nets. It was in disbelief that he let down the net. And the greater the initial disbelief, the larger the impact when the number of fish caught was, unexpected, large enough to sink the boat.
Simon Peter, who was initially disbelieving that any fish would be caught, was stunned. Fishing was his trade, yet he had been proven the impossible. Jesus was real. Go away from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man! The extent of the supplication offered up in Peter’s proclamation was immense. Miracles often show Christ’s supernatural qualities, strength and grace. And often, through these works of miracles, in seeing the extent of Christ’s greatness, we come to understand the extent of our weaknesses as well.
When Simon Peter saw this – When Simon Peter saw the amount of fish, he believed. Peter was fortunate, as with many other believers of his time. They were able to see the holiness of Christ first-hand, and they were able to believe through seeing.
Go away from me, Lord; – This was an expression of Peter’s humility, and his sudden understanding of his own weaknesses and unworthiness. It wasn’t that Peter asked Jesus to leave because he didn’t want him there or didn’t believe in Jesus – he believed in Jesus so much and understood in that instant that he was a higher being, a holy being and he felt his immense unworthiness in being near Jesus. It was to the extent whereby, no matter how far Peter went away from Jesus, it’s still not far enough a distance for somebody as holy as Jesus. It might also be that, as according to Jewish culture, Peter was wary of the holiness of Jesus which would overwhelm him, a mere mortal, and break him. Such sentiments weren’t unusual – the prophet Isaiah, in seeing the sights of the heavenly realm, expressed his fear – “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” [Isaiah 6:5]
I am a sinful man! – The degree of reverence offered to Christ here was immense. First Peter fell at Jesus’ knees – a traditional way of supplicating oneself according to tradition, afterwhich he expressed his own unworthiness in being in the same place as Christ, for he is a sinful man – and Christ, it is implied, isn’t. Perhaps Peter referred to his general life when he called himself a sinful man. Or perhaps he was directly referring to his initial disbelief, when he doubted that fish would be caught.
Jesus’ response to him was interesting. Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch men. It puts to rest all of Peter’s concerns with his discovery that Jesus was the Son of God. Peter can be in his presence. He didn’t need to fear that the holiness of Christ will overwhelm or break him. He didn’t need to fear about repercussions about his initial disbelief.
Have you ever felt that kind of sudden understanding that Peter felt, prompting him to say, go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man! Have you ever felt that you see your sins more clearly because of God’s holiness and purity? Have you ever felt so persecuted by your own sinfulness in the light of God’s greatness, that you want to hide from his eyes and yet there is nowhere to hide?
If you ever feel that way, it’s probably a good thing, and it’s probably good to try to remember – do not be afraid. God’s holiness and greatness surely allow us to see our sinfulness clearer, but it is not for the sake of persecuting us, but so that we can repent and return back to God and glorify him.
Peter came a long way, from first declaring his sinfulness in his understanding that Christ is Lord, to asking Jesus to say ‘come’ so that he can walk on water, to being the first to answer that Christ is Lord, and repeat three times that he loves Jesus, to being called the rock of the Church, to denying Christ three times, to his revelation at the house of Cornelius, to healing people with just his shadow, to becoming the rock of the early Church. We all start somewhere, stumble, waver, fail in between. But through it all, Peter kept his faith that he first gained the day he asked Jesus to go away from him. If you ever had that ‘go away from me, Lord‘ moment, recall it often and like Peter, build your faith on it.