“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
(Luke 5:8c, ESV)
This is quite a statement for Peter to make about himself. It is a very strong assessment of Peter’s awareness of his condition. Peter uses a very strong word, hamartolos, as he expresses his utter awareness of his condition. This word suggests “one who is devoted to sin.” It also expresses the idea of “preeminently sinful, especially wicked.” By the way, as a side note, it was the word used by the Jews for those Jews who became tax collectors. Why would Peter make such a statement? What would provoke him to arrive at that conclusion?
Jesus was on the beach one day and the crowds wanted to hear him teach. Jesus got into one of two boats sitting on the sandy shore and asked Simon to push out into the water. Jesus sat down and taught the people on the shore from the boat the Word of God. When Jesus had finished with the lesson of the day, He had another lesson in mind for Peter.
Jesus told Peter to “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter replied, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Of course we now know what happened, when Peter and the others with him let down their nets they caught a large school of fish. As a matter of fact they caught so much fish that the nets began to come apart. The men had to ask for help of others to bring the catch to shore. What did Peter do? Peter fell down before Jesus and acknowledge his sinful condition and asked Jesus to take leave of him. Why? What made Peter react this way? How would you have reacted? What would you have done or said?
Peter reacted the only way that was proper. Peter’s response was appropriate for a person who had “seen” God. (Isaiah 6:1-8; Ezekiel 1:28) Peter quickly saw that this “miracle” was actually a demonstration of the personage of Jesus Christ. Peter was aware that he was in the presence of God. Of course this is the first step in understanding who Jesus is. Peter deduced that God was working through Jesus and present in Jesus. Peter’s understanding will grow as time goes on and especially after the resurrection. But for now Peter knew that somehow God through Jesus exposed his sinful condition and he was well aware of his state of sin. Peter was afraid that he would be judged as a sinful man.
This is a good thing. We must be brought to an awareness of our sinful state as the first step toward our salvation. Then, after redemption, even as we realize our sins have been forgiven, are we aware of the presence of the old nature still within us? What is your response when you become aware of Scripture? What is your response when you sense the presence of God in others, or a sermon, or in a quiet time of reflection? Do you sense your condition of “being a sinful man.” Our only response prior to salvation and after salvation is to acknowledge the awareness of the presence of sin in our lives and the need of our savior to put off the deeds of the old man and to put on the new man, Jesus Christ.