Bridges are fun. You can get up on them and look down on water, boats, canyons, rocks and all sorts of things. Beyond aesthetics and entertainment, bridges conveniently link places together. Bridges also link people together. People need to have bridges built to them. Being a Christian is being a bridge-builder. Bridge-builders, it would seem, can get great. In ancient Rome, the Pontifex Maximus (the “Greatest Bridge-Builder”) was the ranking state priest, the head of a college of priests. Later on, from the time of Augustus, the Roman Emperors took this label upon themselves. The head of Imperial Rome was the Chief Bridge-Builder. After the fall of Rome as a political power, the title of Pontifex Maximus was (not surprisingly) assumed to the Papacy. The current Pope, Francis, is only the sixth non-Italian pope since the Council of Constance (1417). All bridges might not lead to Rome, but nearly all Papal bridges appear to lead somewhere in Italy. This is all none too catholic, but I digress.
Bridges between people are necessary, even more than bridges between places. Sin alienates us from God and from humanity. Sin breaks down naturally created points of connection between people and sets them to frustration, anger, bitterness, and finally to war. The people of the world, isolated in their sin, are in dire need of bridges – gospel bridges.
Further, God himself imposes divisions between people. In the Garden, God set two lines of humanity against each other:
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 2:15-16)
Theologians call this division and enmity “the Antithesis.” It is God’s line (through Seth…) versus the Serpent’s line (through Cain…), and these two are opposed. This Antithesis is explicitly developed throughout the succeeding chapters of Genesis. The Antithesis is the very theological basis against intermarriage with unbelievers. More than that, however, the Antithesis is part of God’ s plan to redeem the world through Jesus Christ. He divided humanity in order that He might in time unify it under one Lord.
Many generations after the divine creation of the Antithesis, God called a man (Abraham) out of whom He would make a people (Israel). This people was to become a blessing to the whole world. In order to preserve the people, so that the blessing should come in the fullness of time, God gave Israel copious laws to separate them from all the surrounding nations. Israelites were to be a peculiar and special people to God. They were neither to plant their fields and vineyards like the nations around them (Deut. 22:9) nor dress themselves like the other nations (Deut. 22:11-12). By God’s command, Israelite men were to have distinctive hair and beards (Lev. 19:27). Also, Israelites were not to eat the unclean animals that the Gentiles ate (Lev. 11). These “separating” commandments of God are shown in the NT to be God’s plan to lead Israel from the point of the promise of salvation to the actual advent of Messiah. The Law was the pedagogue to lead Israel to her long-expected Messiah (Gal. 3:23-24).
Please note the three-fold source of human division so far: sin, the divinely imposed Antithesis, and the OT laws of separation. Before Jesus Christ came, the nations of the world were strangers and aliens, estranged from the people of God and the covenants of promise, (Eph. 2:12) and that by divine design. God, in the midst of a sinful world, had built a dividing wall of partition. On one side was Israel; on the other, every other nation. Israel and Israel alone knew God, of all the nations of the earth. Thus, she was God’s peculiar treasure.
God’s design, however, is greater than the separation of one nation unto himself. He planned to bless the whole world through that one nation. Could Israel heal the great rifts of sin? Who could bring reconciliation between God and men, and among men themselves? Israel’s Law and Prophets pointed to Messiah.
By the time Jesus comes on the scene, the rift between Jews and Gentiles was deep and violent, full of enmity and hatred. Jesus gave himself as the Lamb without spot or blemish to redeem Israel, but also to open the New Covenant to all the nations of the earth. By believing in Jesus, Jews were ushered into the beginnings of their inheritance, an inheritance promised since before Abraham. Amazingly, believing Gentiles were also brought into the “commonwealth of Israel” to be made fellow heirs, members, and partakers with Jews of the promised covenant blessings of Israel. Jesus came to give us peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and with one another.
After Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Apostles were sent and empowered by Christ to continue his ministry – uniting all things in heaven and on earth under one Lord. The inclusion of Gentiles (as Gentiles) into the “covenants of promise” was the great controversy of the NT and the first-century church. It took years for the Jewish NT church to receive Gentiles into their number. In fact, the whole of chapter 10 in Acts is devoted to this Gentile inclusion. From that chapter, we learn the divine plan for the separation laws, specifically the dietary laws. These laws were to separate Israel from the Gentiles. Since Jesus opened the New Covenant to the Gentiles, however, they are unclean no more. The dietary laws anticipated the New Covenant and the bringing in of the Gentiles. Jesus opened up with New Covenant through his death and his Apostles would continue ministering that New Covenant both to Jews and Gentiles, uniting the two in one new man.
That one new man is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. One biblical image of the church is as the body of the Head, who is Christ. He is the Head, and we are limbs, feet, hands and so on. In fact, the church is the fullness of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). Jesus and his church are called “totus Christus,” or the whole Christ: not just Head, but Head and body. As the Head currently rules in heaven as his Father’s right hand, so the church rules in him and serves him here on earth. It is through that body, the church, that Messiah now builds bridges to a fractured, dead humanity.
The body has many parts. Each of those parts is equipped by the Head to minister within the body (Eph 4:11-16). However, each part of the body also interacts with the world. We, in Christ’s name, are the bridge-builders. The Head, who has built bridges between the Holy One and a fallen humanity, also builds bridges between fallen humans. He uses us to do this in our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, supermarkets, etc…. Jesus calls us, empowers us, and sends us into the world to build bridges of salvation and peace, reconciliation and grace, all in his name. These bridges lead to Jesus Christ, who along with his body, is the true Chief Bridge-Builder. Pontifex maximus totus Christus est.
In closing, what stumbling blocks are you laying in the way of faithful Kingdom bridge-building? Our sins impede our bridge-building, our faithful connecting with sinners in this world. Our pride is a stumbling block. Our up-tight priggishness is a fleshly building impediment. Our secret attraction to the world and its pleasures prevent our work. Prejudicial attitudes and looking down our self-righteousness noses at other people are not in keeping with building gospel bridges of grace. We cannot despise sinners and love them. Let us, therefore, despise ourselves and love sinners. That will help us build bridges in Jesus’ name.
 This word in the original of Galatians 3 signifies one who would lead a young pupil from place to place, not an actual instructor or master.