[Read: Luke 5:1-11 & Matthew 7:21-23]
Peter had caught nothing on his own; he did not have the power to catch anything on his own. It was not until our Lord commanded Peter to “put out into the deep and let down [his] nets for a catch,”[ Luke 5:4b] and Peter reluctantly did so,[ 5:5] that he and his fellow fishermen caught an abundance of fish.
And at this point, the Holy Spirit tells us that “when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'”[ Luke 5:8] Peter had been given eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand that Christ is Lord, Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel who is “of purer eyes than to see evil and [who] cannot look at wrong.”[ Hab 1:13] Peter acknowledged his own great sinfulness, his unworthiness of having Christ the Lord God Almighty stand before him, show him mercy and kindness and bless his otherwise fruitless task.
The guilt of his sin exposed by the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ drove Peter to the ground in repentance. And note our Lord Jesus’ response: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[ 5:10b] Do not be afraid. Let those words sink in, brethren. What fear is there for the forgiven sinner? There is, to be sure, reverence for God. But terror of God’s judgment? Not at all. For it is written: “…whoever hears [Christ’s] word and believes Him who sent [Christ] has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”[ John 5:24] What terror, therefore, is there? There is none.
This isn’t true of those, however, who trust in their own works. Observe how the wicked tell our Lord Jesus: “…did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”[ Matt 7:22] There is no fear of God before their eyes, the Spirit declares.[ Rom 3:18] Hence, our Lord will tell them: “I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness.”[ Matt 7:23] Note the contrast, brethren! Those who have repented in this life and cried out depart from me for a I am a sinful man are not those to whom our Lord Jesus will declare “Depart from Me you workers of lawlessness.”
Note, therefore, the parallel here. It is an antithetical parallel, the former underscoring that God receives repentant sinners who know their wretchedness, the latter is proof that God rejects those who are blind to their own wretchedness. Likewise, it is a demonstration that the grace of God is not given to all men but only those whom God has chosen in Christ. Christ knew Peter; the wicked have never been known by Christ. Peter fell before Christ, disrobed of all pretenses to any righteousness in himself and repented; the unregenerate stand before Christ and present their works done in His name as if they would merit Christ’s favor. Peter was forgiven, declared righteous; even the works of the wicked that are done in Christ’s name are wickedness.
Peter’s “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” stands in direct opposition to the words of the wicked who cry out “Lord, lord, have we not…?” To Peter, and all who trust in Him, He declares: “Do not be afraid.” To those who are not fearful of the judgment of God abiding on them, He declares: “Depart from Me.”