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(From Forerunner Commentary)
There are several discernible character traits in the centurion as described by Matthew and Luke:
First, he cares for and is concerned about his servant. Although the servant is a slave, he does not treat him as one. In fact, he is dear to the centurion, and so his suffering moves the centurion to compassion.
Second, he is humble and sees himself as unworthy as a Gentile to approach the Jew Jesus, whether personally or through the intercession of others. Luke describes this humility more vividly than Matthew does. Christ respects the humble and acts accordingly. The centurion's humility is seen in his consciousness of his own sins and the recognition of Jesus' holiness and excellence.
Third, he has obvious faith in Christ's ability to heal. He knows not to expect a "magical" cure—rubbing an idol or touching a charm. Nor does he ask for a sign that a miracle would be performed. His humility shows his out-going concern for another human being, and it is outstanding because of his rank—people with status are rarely humble. When people are given even a low position or title, they often become inflated with pride, valuing themselves of more importance and worth than is realistic.
The centurion's humility is also unusual due to his ethnicity. Roman soldiers were trained to think of themselves as superior to those whom they conquered and presided over, especially in regard to the Jews, whom they scorned. However, the centurion humbles himself significantly before the Jewish rabbi, Jesus, giving Him great honor by abasing himself to the point that he says he is not worthy even of being in His presence.
The centurion's humility teaches us that the most faithful people frequently consider themselves the most unworthy before God. In contrast, the weakest of people often deem themselves the most worthy. Likewise, a righteous person will readily admit his sinfulness, but the sinner will justify himself.
Jesus calls the centurion's act of faith "great" because he does not ask for any sign but believes in Christ's spiritual, supernatural ability. He does not expect anything visible. Jesus twice refers to a person having "great faith," and in both cases, the person is a Gentile: this Roman centurion and the Canaanite woman who appeals for her daughter's healing (Matthew 15:28). These two miracles show that faith transcends such things as race and birth privileges.
Since the centurion is a Gentile, he has no promise by covenant of God's mercy, as do the Israelites. Thus, for him to have this kind of faith is a rare and great thing. His faith sees Christ's power, and he declares His holiness as a witness to other Gentiles. His faith shows his acceptance and respect of Christ as Savior and his submission to His will. He even believes that no direct contact is necessary for Jesus to perform the miracle! The centurion sees no restrictions on Christ's power and ability to heal his servant. He understands that nothing limits God.
It is interesting that Christ marvels over the magnitude of the centurion's faith. He understands the difficulty with which humans struggle with faith—that we are visually oriented, seeing the physical first and the spiritual second. Indeed, with most, the physical is more real than the spiritual. Yet, the reality is that true power, glory, and love are spiritual. These spiritual things are more real than the physical world that we see and hear. This material world will one day pass away, but the spiritual Kingdom of God will last forever and ever (Luke 21:33; II Peter 3:10; Daniel 7:18).
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Centurion's Servant (Part Two)
This last statement by Jesus gives us a little insight into His mind. What He says can apply both to earthly relationships of masters and servants as well as to a human's relationship to Christ. We can see in the pages of the gospels that it also describes how Jesus approached His relationship with God the Father. He was always submissive to the Father in everything. Beyond this, God the Father is the greatest servant in the universe. In our behalf, He sustains everything we depend on for our very lives.
Luke probably alludes to the same statement in his account of that Passover evening:
But there was also rivalry among [the disciples], as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves." (Luke 22:24-27)
Christ, by His actions, made it very clear that He would not expect anything from us that He was not willing to do Himself. He, as our Governor and Elder Brother, though He should have been served by others, served them. Undoubtedly, service is the essence of godly leadership.
Bill Keesee (1935-2010)
Another Look at Footwashing
How does the New Testament present humility? According to commentator William Barclay, the classical Greek language did not even have a word for humility that included no sense of shame. The root of the word the apostles used literally means "to depress," a very expressive word. To the Greeks, humility indicated servility and slavishness. This may have been because Greeks looked down upon anyone who acted in humility as not being an upstanding person of good character. Culturally, it was evil, shameful behavior, as to them it exhibited someone untrustworthy. At best, they would consider the person to be a wimp because they admired people who aggressively took charge, commanding others about.
The Christian approach is entirely different. We will consider a few scriptures that give a description of the way humility enhances one's character.
Psalm 113:4-7: "For He is high above the nations; His glory is far greater than the heavens. Who can be compared with God enthroned on high? Far below Him are heavens and the earth; He stoops to look, and lifts the poor from the dirt" (The Living Bible).
Psalm 138:6: "Yet though He is so great, He respects the humble, but proud men must keep their distance" (The Living Bible).
Both of these psalms picture God as being of awesome power, but He holds His power in check to achieve a greater good. Rather than destroy through imperious self-centeredness, He pities and builds with gentle, understanding kindness.
Matthew 20:25-28 shows New Covenant leadership: "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'"
Matthew 11:29 makes Jesus' insistence on humility exceedingly clear: "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Matthew 11:29 is a direct command from the same God described in Psalms, though here He is acting as a Man. His example and commands regarding this continues to be the way Christians are to follow.
Humility is not a weak, cringing approach to life. It is not a denial of power but the deliberate controlling of power to accomplish a greater good. It comes into proper use when a converted person deliberately utilizes a servant approach rather than a natural, proud, and carnal human-ruler approach. It is the attitude that best promotes good relationships because it neutralizes pride and the damage it can wreak. At the very least, it indicates modesty that grows from a genuine self-evaluation that concludes in the person deeming himself worthless in relation to God and His truth.
It is important that we understand self-evaluation better. In the Christian sense of humility, the person is not deeming himself worthless because he sees himself as a vile creature full of sin—though to some degree this is true in comparison to God—but because he is merely a creature, absolutely dependent upon God even for every breath of air. Further, he views himself as possessing nothing intrinsically good, having to receive all good, spiritual things from God as well. Even Jesus had this attitude, and He is our model.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and Humility
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