But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. – Luke 5:8-11 [ESV]
Job encountered it first hand. He said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6) David reflected on it. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:3-4) Isaiah expressed it this way: “’Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5) Here Peter is responding to it: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (v. 8) They were overwhelmed by the holiness and majesty of God and their own sinfulness.
That seems to be a lost art these days. Today we talk about pride. We make excuses. We lay the blame on others. We don’t bow the knee to anyone. And when we do begin to come to grips with our sin or shortcomings others tend to make little of it. They tell us it’s not so bad. They say it doesn’t matter. They assert, “It’s no big deal.” Yet deep in our souls we know better. It is a big deal. It does matter. It is bad. We have sinned. We are sinners.
But we have drawn the wrong conclusion to the truth of our sinfulness. For sin does not disqualify us from God’s love. Only its denial would do that. For if we say we do not sin we deceive ourselves. And if we confess it, God faithfully and justly forgives our sins. It was a big deal. It was very bad. It does matter. But God is bigger than our sin. He is good beyond the bad we’ve done. You matter more to him than your sin.
Jesus shows this when Peter falls in despair at Jesus’ feet. Depart from me is turned to follow me. Peter’s self-disqualification is replaced by Jesus’ invitation. No wonder the people of Jesus’ day had such a difficult time with his message. Nothing like this had happened before. Except for Isaiah, David, Job, and now Peter. Those were surely all exceptions, right. Wrong again. Think of Paul, “chief of sinners.” He was shown mercy and the violent persecutor became the faithful missionary.
Be clear about this, however, Jesus’ forgiveness is not just a get out of jail free card. It’s call to a new and different freedom. We’re free to follow Jesus. We’re free to invite others along. We’re free from condemnation. We’re free to rejoice in God’s grace. We’re free by the truth of Jesus’ word. No need to deny the truth of our sin. Just heed the invitation and follow Jesus. It’s quite a gracious invitation.