Jesus was not in the military and did not routinely go out of his way to minister to soldiers. Yet a Roman centurion who needed help came to Jesus.
Jon Bloom, a staff writer for an organization called Desiring God, makes the following observation: Luke 7:9 and Matthew 8:10 use the Greek word thaumazo (thou-mad’-zo) which is translated as “marveled” or “amazed” to describe Jesus’s response to the centurion’s faith. The only other time this word is used to describe the Lord’s response to other people’s faith is in Mark 6:6, when he marvels at the lack of faith in the people of Nazareth, his hometown.
Bloom calls this centurion a “firstfruit and a foreshadow of what Jesus had come to bring about.” It may be that Jesus Himself was the first in the New Testament to minister to people in the military, and the “firstfruit and foreshadow” refers to thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who will come to faith in Christ through the message of the Gospel.
Peter also had an encounter with a centurion. Acts chapter ten tells of Peter’s vision about eating unclean food. In the dream, the Lord told him to stop calling something unclean if the Lord Himself declared it clean. Peter woke up and was thinking about the experience when Cornelius’s representatives arrived. The Lord told Peter to go with the men, so he went to the home of the centurion and proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:44 says everyone who heard Peter’s message received the Holy Spirit and became believers in Jesus.
In this account, the representative of Christ went to where the soldier was in order to minister to him. This is exactly what a chaplain does: after praying, going to where the people are, spending time with them, and paying attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who opens a door for sharing the message of the Savior.
The significance that Peter attributes to his experience is that the Lord has opened the door for Gentiles to come into the Kingdom of God. But there’s another, more subtle significance that we can’t afford to miss. In the same way that the Church must no longer think of the gentiles as bad people who are outsiders, the Church must not think about people in the military as being unclean or bad. It’s not an accident that the gentile who Peter visited was a military man.
Peter understood that Christians should accept, love, and serve all people, all demographics, and all ethnicities. Nobody is to be considered inferior, less valuable, or unworthy. The same is true for those serving in the military. They are people who need God, need to be loved and accepted, need someone to tell them about Jesus, need someone who’ll be an example of Christian faith and lifestyle.
Military chaplains have an opportunity almost every day to speak about faith, hope, love, and the grace of God. They develop relationships and friendships with the people in the command, and let their light shine. And the fact that chaplains come from all backgrounds and all walks of life allows for a wide variety of methods and opportunities to teach, disciple, and represent the Lord.
This is an excerpt from Military Ministry: Chaplains in the Twenty-First Century by Paul Linzey and Keith Travis.