The Approach of the Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)

Published on Wednesday, 13 December 2017 05:41
The original readers of Matthew lived under the control of the Roman Empire. They also knew that Jesus was demanding from his followers a higher commitment to him than they could show to the authority of Rome. No doubt they would have anticipated a collision eventually between the representatives of Rome and Jesus or with one or more of his disciples. Matthew here describes once such encounter.

It is important to note that the centurion had already believed in Jesus. His approach to Jesus is that of a person of faith rather than one seeking for faith. We are not told how he came to be a believer in Jesus. Perhaps he had identified himself with the Jewish faith and had been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. Whatever the process of his conversion, he did trust in Jesus as the Saviour.

How was his faith revealed? First, we can see from the account that he was a man of compassion. This is revealed in his desire for his servant to be helped. I suppose we can see his sense of compassion in his use of the word ‘terribly’. It indicates that the centurion was marked by sympathy. In this he was like every other true believer. It is impossible to be a true disciple and not be marked by compassion, by love for others, and that love will cause the person to do something to bring help to the needy person.

Second, we can see from the account that the centurion had great confidence in the ability of Jesus. The servant’s illness was very serious because he was paralysed. Normally, that is a situation beyond the hope of recovery. Yet the centurion believed that Jesus could do the impossible. He believed in the divine power of Jesus and expressed this aspect of faith when he said that Jesus did not need to come to the centurion’s home in order to heal the servant.

We should notice in this regard that Jesus tested the centurion’s faith. The test was in the response that he would go to the house and heal the servant. This kind of test is difficult to engage in because initially the centurion’s response seems to go against the desire of Jesus. Perhaps we would have expected the man to respond submissively and accept that Jesus could come to the house. But such a response was not an expression of faith. If the centurion had gone along that road, he would be hiding the fact that he believed Jesus could heal the servant with a word.

Connected to the matter of authority, it is obvious that the centurion believed that Jesus had authority in areas that he or his masters did not. He and they could order people about in an external manner, but none of them had the power to dismiss a disease. But he believed that Jesus had authority in the supernatural areas of life. His confidence in the authority of Jesus should cause us to ask in which areas of life we acknowledge Jesus has undisputed authority.

Third, we can see from the account that the centurion confessed his unworthiness. It is important to observe that he did not link a sense of his unworthiness with a low expectation of what Jesus could do. Instead he had great confidence in the power of the Saviour. True confession of unworthiness does not lead a person to say that Jesus cannot help him. Paul confessed that he was a sinner, but that did not lead him to say Jesus could not enable him to be an apostle. David, in Psalm 51, details the awfulness of his sin, but he does not conclude that the God of mercy would never use him again to speak to others about God.

We have no way of knowing if this man had ever been a flagrant sinner. Although a Gentile, he could have been a moral person. The point I am making is that a person’s sense of unworthiness is not connected to the visibility of his sins. If that was the case, then the unworthiness is based on what he thinks other people think of him. Had the centurion based his personal estimation on the opinion of others, he would have concluded that he was worthy. Instead, true sense of unworthiness comes when we see our inner lives and the weaknesses and sinful attitudes we have in contrast to what we should be, even as Christians.

What is the point that the man makes when he refers to soldiers obeying his instructions? I think he is saying that his authority was seen in the actions of others. If Jesus had gone to the centurion’s home, the public impression would have been that the centurion was in charge of the movements of Jesus and had ordered him to go to the house. The centurion did not want that impression to happen. Instead, he wanted Jesus to be seen as the One with authority. In other words, he wanted Jesus alone to have the glory.

Read more