By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the 7 wonders of the natural world is the famous Natural Bridge of Virginia. Tons of solid rock form a bridge over a creek 215 feet below. This massive masterpiece of God's bridge-building skill has caused many to stand in awe and recognize that, not only the heavens, but the earth as well, declares the glory of God. Fifty feet thick, 100 feet wide, and 190 feet long, this bridge of nature was called by John Marshall, "God's greatest miracle in stone." French engineers visited the bridge during the Revolutionary War, and they called it the work of the Creator. One said, "It is the most wonderful thing I have ever seen. When you see it you seem to hear the angels sing." I've only seen it in pictures, but a woman who had seen it told me that it made her feel near heaven.
We want to consider in this message one of God's bridges that can not only make us feel near heaven, but can actually lead us to heaven. It is a bridge so magnificently marvelous that it cannot be ranked as one of the 7 wonders of the world, or even of the universe, for there are not 6 more of anything that can fit into its category. It is so infinitely superior to all of God's other works that it must stand alone as the Wonder Of Wonders.
There is a bridge that spans all space,
Unseen by our eyes.
A bridge that leads from everywhere
To God's throne in the skies.
This bridge of bridges, though unseen, is the very essence of reality for the Christian. It is symbolized by the cross, and can be called the bridge of reconciliation. Man spends a great deal to build bridges in order to save time. The Lackawana Railroad Co. built a 12 million dollar bridge to save 20 minutes between New York and Buffalo. God's bridge of reconciliation, however, was so costly that astronomical figures could not measure it. It was an infinite cost, for its purpose was not just to save time, but to save eternity for those travelling through this world to the next.
We could never have guessed what price God would pay to build such a bridge had He not revealed it. Even then it seems unbelievable, for the cost was the cross of His Son. It seems a strange way to build a bridge, but it was the only way to build the bridge of reconciliation. This bridge would enable sinful man to approach God without fear and trembling, but in faith and trust.
A young actress in Hollywood approached a pastor and said, "Pastor, I've heard you say again and again that Jesus died, and that because He died, our sins are forgiven. What I don't get is what's the connection?" Her confusion is typical of man's understanding of the Gospel in the modern day. When the modern biblically illiterate American sees a sign saying "Jesus saves," he may very well think it is an ad by the banks to get people to open more savings accounts. Masses of people do not understand even the basic principles of Christianity. In part it is due to the fact that Christians themselves are not able to explain clearly what Scripture teaches.
Our aim in this message is to make the doctrine of reconciliation clear enough for the sinner to experience, and simple enough for the saint to explain. The whole Gospel is wrapped up in this word reconciliation. The ability to explain it will be a great asset in making us useful servants in the ministry of reconciliation. The word means to unite; to bring back to harmony, and to cause to be friendly again those who have fallen out. Reconciliation is what happens when a husband and wife have been fighting, and something causes them to cease the strife, and become friends again. This is known as kissing and making up. Whatever causes them to do so is a bridge of reconciliation. It opened the way for them to approach each other across the chasm they had dug between them. The bridge of reconciliation unites them again by spanning that chasm, and making it of no effect in separating them.
Such a bridge is usually built by one or the other of the parties involved humbling themselves before the other in either admitting their guilt, or in being willing to forgive. Often it is even the innocent party in the quarrel who takes the initiative, and builds the bridge, and asks the guilty one to cross over and live in peace, rather than pieces. It is often the most innocent who builds the bridge.
This was the case in the strife which separated God and man. Sin had gouged out a chasm between God and man infinitely greater than the Grand Canyon. Sin set God and man at war. The offender was man, for he was guilty of breaking the bond of unity by his disobedience. God, however, though the innocent party in the conflict, humbled Himself, and built a bridge of reconciliation by which man could return to fellowship with Him.
God could have easily crushed man, and ended the battle as total victor over his rebel enemies, but God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He gains no satisfaction in the victory of sheer power, for He is all powerful, and there is no challenge at all in gaining a victory which depends on might alone. God's satisfaction comes, not in destroying enemies, but in reconciling enemies, and making them friends again. This is a challenge even for omnipotence, and this alone could express His basic nature of love. Anybody can hate an enemy for life, but only the Godlike can make a friend out of an enemy. Therefore, Paul says in verse 19, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself."
O wisest love! That flesh and blood,
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.
Christ prevailed on the cross. He destroyed the works of the devil that hindered man from returning to God. He built an indestructible bridge of reconciliation by which the world could return. The chasm which sin had dug between God and man was made of no effect in separating those who longed, like the Prodigal, to return to the Father's home and love. What is surprising is that Paul says it was the world that God was reconciling in Christ. The world is God's enemy. The world represents all that is opposed to God. It is the realm where Satan's rule has corrupted all, and made all men enemies of God by nature, and by choice. John warned Christians to not love the world, neither the things in the world, for it is still the enemy of God.
How then can Paul say that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself? We know that God so loved the world that He gave His Son to die for it. We know He died for the sins of the whole world. We know He sent His Son into the world, not to condemn it, but that the world through Him might be saved. We know these things, and yet we look at the world and wonder if God's love was effective. Did His plan work? Was the cross really effective in building a bridge of reconciliation, for it appears that the world is still no friend of God.
We have here another of the great paradoxes of Scripture. The world is reconciled and yet unreconciled. It is reconciled in that all that hinders man from returning to God was nailed to the cross. Christ's atonement for sin was a complete victory.
And e'er His agony was done,
Before the westering sun went down,
Crowning that day with crimson crown,
He knew that He had won.
It is finished, said Jesus. The cross was a success, and God in Christ did build a bridge which reconciled the world to Himself. The fact is, however, that this bridge, like any other bridge, only has value as it is crossed. An uncrossed bridge is no better than no bridge at all, and that is why the world is still unreconciled to God, even though God has reconciled it. It is reconciled in that the bridge is open and available, and God requires nothing but that the sinner cross it by receiving Christ as Savior. It is unreconciled in that men have not yet done so. This is why Paul says the ministry of the church is the ministry of reconciliation. The primary task of the church is to tell the world that God has built a bridge by which they can be united with God again as citizens of His kingdom. They no longer need to be rebels running from His wrath.
In a novel by Maurice Hewlett a servant of the king says, "There was a Father, my Lord King Richard, who slew His own Son, that the world might be the better." "And was the world much better?" Asked the Monarch. "Not very much, but that was not God's fault, for it had, and still has, the chance of being better for it." Because of the cross every man is a potential child of God. As far as God is concerned, every man is welcome to return and be forgiven, and restored to fellowship. What is amazing is the humility of God in building the bridge of reconciliation. We have no picture here of a rebel on his knees before the king pleading for mercy and pardon, but rather, a king before the rebel pleading for him to receive mercy and pardon. There is nothing that can compare with the condescension of God in His love for the rebel sinner.
I have heard men say in giving an invitation to receive Christ, "I will not plead, for Christ is a king, and kings do not plead." This is not true at all of our Sovereign Savior. On the contrary, He is a king who pleads. He built a bridge of reconciliation for a world of rebels, and has sent ambassadors like Paul into all the world to plead with men to cross that bridge. God did the stooping. He paid the cost in getting this good news to the world. Let us never be guilty of dividing the Father and Son in the plan of salvation. Some who have conveyed this misconception led a little girl to say, "I don't like God because He was going to destroy the world, but I like Jesus because He stopped Him and saved the world." Such a concept is totally false, for it was God who loved the world, and who gave His Son. It was God who was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
In the National Gallery in London there is a painting of Christ on the cross against a black background. Jesus looks alone and abandoned as if the whole universe was uncaring and indifferent. If one looks intently, however, there emerges from the blackness the dim outline of another crucified sufferer. It is the Father sharing Calvary with His Son. The nails that pierced the hands of Jesus pierced the Father's too. While Jesus atoned for our sin, God the Father built a bridge that made the chasm of sin of no effect in keeping men from God.
There is a bridge that spans all space
Unseen by our eyes;
A bridge that leads from everywhere
To God's throne in the skies.
That bridge is the cross of Christ. The way of the cross leads home because it reconciles us with God the Father. In Rome there is a bridge called the bridge of St. Angelo which crosses the Tiber. Statues of Peter and Paul stand at the end of it. Crowds going over it centuries ago caused it to give way, and 172 people perished. Many have perished in history because of bridges that collapsed, or were carried away by a flood. The only bridge that can never fail you, but lead to eternal life is this bridge that God built.
One of the greatest examples of such self-sacrifice in history occurred in the building of a bridge. Napoleon's army was at its wits end. They were pressed on all sides by the Russians who had destroyed all the bridges. The only hope was for some sort of bridge to be built, and so in spite of the cold icy water men jumped in and held a makeshift bridge as the troops marched across. When they were called to leave the water, not a man moved. Clinging to the pillars, they stood silent and motionless, for they were frozen to death. Even Napoleon shed tears at their sacrifice. The price had to be paid if the rest of the army was to be saved. And so also the cross had to be endured if mankind was to be saved and reconciled to God.
It has been made a proverb that you don't cross your bridges before you come to them. That is not bad advice, but another good saying is, do cross the bridge of reconciliation when you come to it, and trust in Christ as your Savior, for that is your only hope of being restored to fellowship with God.