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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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A Response | Tales of the Unexpected

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Luke 5:8-11

We all have those experiences when a moment of wonder becomes a moment of woe: the family feast becomes a family feud, or the opening of a parcel becomes the opening line of an email to customer services.

Luke 5:1-9 includes Jesus turning up on Peter’s frontline, preaching from Peter’s boat, enabling Peter to make a miraculous catch of fish. Yet ends up with Peter telling Jesus to go away. What on earth was going on?

Peter’s initial response to the unprecedented catch was one of celebration. ‘Wow, this is amazing – it’s like a month’s worth of fish in one morning’! Celebration then turns to revelation. ‘Who is this man, who heals bodies, speaks to hearts, and has divine knowledge and control of fish?!’ We don’t know exactly what Peter thinks here, it’s not till later that he proclaims Jesus to be ‘The Christ of God’ (9:20).

However, revelation soon turns to consternation: ‘Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man’ (5:8). It’s an experience not dissimilar to Isaiah’s in the temple, some 700 years earlier (Isaiah 6:1-5).

It looks like a schoolboy error from Peter. Jesus is clearly destined for big things; surely now that Peter has revealed his own flaws and failures, Jesus is going to drop him like an under-performing football manager.

‘Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5:10b-11). Just as Isaiah found, the Lord doesn’t disown us in our sinfulness. Incredibly, graciously, he cleanses and calls us to be part of his world-changing mission (Isaiah 6:6-13).

Perhaps at the start of this week, as you head out onto your frontline, you are keenly aware of your own shortcomings. There’s a host of ways we can deal with our sin: deny it; excuse it; wallow in it. Jesus does not allow Peter to wander down any of these cul-de-sacs, and we shouldn’t either.

Whatever you’ve done, however you feel, God is going to work through you on your frontline. Just as Peter and Isaiah discovered, God’s recruitment policy has never been about picking the perfect (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). He just wants us to catch a glimpse of his holiness, confess our sin, be willing to leave everything, and follow him.

Joe Warton