A transcript of a sermon by Ern Baxter (1914-1993):
Since the beginning of man’s record of himself, the challenge of flight has captured his imagination. The conquering of the air in our own generation has produced a wave of awe and romance unequaled in the annuals of man’s existence. Somehow the ability to fly has epitomised the longing of man to rise above the natural limitations of earth-bound mortals and soar into the realm of the supernatural.
God has made provision in His Kingdom for man to have this spiritual need met, and yet few believers ever find the satisfaction of knowing fully what God has allotted to them. How can a man break into the realm of the supernatural in his walk with God? In one form or another this question seems to be one of the pressing concerns wherever I travel. Rather than embarking on a heavy dissertation, I want to look at a beautiful illustration used by the prophet Isaiah;
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
King of the Birds: This passage speaks of the eagle. As the lion is the king of the beasts, so the eagle is the king of the birds. The Holy Spirit has likened us and our Godward aspirations to the aspiration of being like the eagle. As I watched the eagles in the Columbia Basin, I began to understand why they have represented throughout time the Godward thrust of man; power, freedom, beauty, the lord of their environment through their ability to master the air. They move in regal splendour for they are born as kings. As the eagle is born with the divine right of kingship, so we come from the new birth with the inherent potential of soaring into the Presence of God Himself. The fact, however, that eagles are so equipped does not necessarily mean that they will never get off the ground.
Deuteronomy 32:11 has some interesting information about the eagles. “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttering over her young, spreading abroad her wings, taketh them, bearth them on her wings”. All eagles begin as eaglets and before these unseemly, squalling fledgings take their place with royalty, they must be trained in the ways of the king of birds. This little verse is the Flight Training Manual of student eagles and earthbound Christians.
The Eaglet’s Lesson: Picture with me two little eaglets snuggled cosily in a down-filled nest, high on an eerie ledge on some remote mountainside. (Christians often find themselves born into equally precarious circumstances). Everything is just wonderful. Mother Eagle sallies forth daily and brings back choice titbits for those ravenous appetites. During the cold mountain nights, she snuggles over the nest and the eaglets snuggle securely under those warm, soft wings and look out at the stars not very far away. They are newly born and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah! Life is wonderful and being a Christian sure makes life easy – no more problems! God knew what He was doing when He thought up this arrangement!
One day Mom begins to act very strangely. Rather than landing on the nest she hovers momentarily beating the air with those great wings. As Junior watches her, he thinks, ‘Mom sure has powerful wings!’. That is exactly what Mrs Eagle wants Junior to know. Then she does something downright crazy. She graps a piece of the nest and drops it over the side of the cliff. Then she returns for another chunk and another and another. The eaglets are starting to think that Mom has lost her marbles! By now the framework of the nest is pretty shaky and that nice soft down that made Junior feel so secure is at the bottom of the canyon. Nest life is becoming a standing room only situation on what is left of their home.
Can you see what the mother eagle is doing? She is preparing her young for the first stage in the eagle training. After our Lord received the Holy Spirit and the declaration of His holy Sonship, the Scripture says that He was led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. I have written in the margin of my Bible at this point, “Is this standard operating procedure?”. I believe that God’s modus operandi is to begin to confront us as soon as possible with the necessity of maturing into something other than nestbound believers.
Growing Up: Paul told the Corinthians that he could not talk to them as mature men because they were as babes (see 1 Corinthians 3:1). He did not say they were babies. But that they were like babies. When a baby slobbers its pabulum down its little chin and milk runs into its little ears, we all laugh and think it is cute. But when a twenty-one year old man slobbers his food down his chin, then he is like a baby and this is sickening. God does not mind a Christian going through the pabulum stage; it is a part of growing up. But it is tragic in God’s eyes when we never grow out of infancy.
Interestingly enough the discomfort of our bewildered eaglets has been deliberately caused by the one who loves them most. How often when we have a streak of trouble, do we cry out, “The Devil is attacking me?!”. Are you positive it is the Devil? Maybe it is the One who loves you the most who is stirring up your nest. Like many believers, the little eagles conclude that standing on the windy ledge is at least tolerable and they can make the most of it. But dear old Mom has more in her mind than just a nest stirring. She catches one of the little fellows in her powerful beatk and nudges him toward the edge of the ledge. The poor little guy wonders what is happening now. His little heart is beating faster and faster and as he is pushed closer to the edge he thinks, ‘No it can’t be! Mother wouldn’t do this to me!’. But she does.
Out of the Nest: With one final push he starts to plummet to the bottom of the canyon – he is sure this is the end. Then out of nowhere there is a swosh of Mom’s mighty wings and Junior is heading back for the safety of the ledge on her powerful back, quite relieved. The first time God kicks us out of the nest and catches us before we hit bottom, we gasp, “Oh thank heavens! I was sure God had let me down that time”. Back on the ledge our would-be king is just getting over being dizzy when Mom starts pushing again. “Not again” he moans as he starts his second tumble. “What if Mom doesn’t make it this time?”. But she does. Several trips later Junior begins to get the feeling that Mom is trying to get a point across. Between rides he suddenly remembers Mom’s huge wings hovering over the nest and thinks, “I wonder if … If she does that again, I’m going to give mine a try!”. Rest assured he gets another chance. Mom will not stop until Junior finds the gumption to try his own wings.
Little eagles are gangly creatures, wobbling shakily on untested wings. But each desperate plunge brings a little more mastery of his wings. One day he spreads those wings and rather than falling, he finds himself rising up and up, riding the mighty air currents far above his ledge home and the nest that confined him. No longer a fledgling begging for tid-bits, he is learning to become one of the eagles – he will be a king. Ministers and evangelists often make becoming a Christian as being born on a satin pillow with a cordon of angels wafting us through life and depositing us at the foot of the celestial throne. Only are we are well settled in our nest, do we learn that God is more intent on the production of character than the provision of our comfort.
Living as a King: The Bible land knew two types of eagles; the golden eagle and the imperial eagle. The golden eagle speaks of us as partakers of the divine nature and the imperial eagle speaks of us as kings. In the Scripture, the two go hand in hand. Our divine right to reign as monarchs in our own lives! The circumstances that confound and befuddle the world become launching pads to new heights in God. Satan and his henchmen become the snakes, which an eagle bisects with a slash of his mighty talons or drops from a dizzy height to be crushed on the rocks below. This is our inheritance.
Some years ago I was managing a campaign in Cleveland. Upon departing the city for a few days, I told one of the committees, “Get a plot of ground where we can pitch a tent for about three thousand people and we will take care of the expenses later”. When I got off the plane upon my return, the chairman met me and said, “We have a wonderful place for the tent”. “Wonderful” I said, “How much did you have to pay for the land?”. “Fifteen hundred dollars a day”. “What?!” I gasped. (Back in those days fifteen hundred dollars was like fifteen thousand today). We had decided not to make a big thing of money so there was little we could do but trust God. After the first day and a half, we were five thousand dollars down – a rather awkward place to be.
That afternoon I preached on Romans 5:17 which says we reign in life by Christ. As I finished, I said, “Now as you meet one another for the next few days, address each other as ‘King So-and-so’. You may address me as King Baxter”. That night I was handed an envelope addressed to ‘King Baxter’. I opened it and read a delightful note. “Dear King Baxter, my wife and I have a feeling that our fellow king has a need. Our of our royal treasury we wish you to accept the enclose cheque for five thousand dollars”. I may not always have it, but there is money in the royal family tree.
Mounting Up on Wings: The writer of Proverbs said that among those mysteries of the universe were too hard to understand, one was the “mystery of an eagle in the air”. The symbolism of this passage is the Christian’s inexplicable potential which is like the eagle’s, which can fly higher than any other bird and never wiggle a wing. What do I mean by “wiggle a wing?”. Did you notice that the psalmist said that eagles “mount up” and not “flap up”? Eagles were not made to go flapping about. They were created to soar high and free. Eagles learn to fly without struggling becasue they understand the air currents. An eagle will perch on a rock and wait, testing the winds. When the right wind is blowing, he lifts into the air with a royal scream. Herein is one of the eagles secrets in being able to mount up – waiting. Those who wait, says the scripture, will be the ones to mount up. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength”.
High Flying: Something in an eagle demands that he fly higher than all the other birds. He often flies well beyond the view of the naked eye. He rises past the telephone wires, where the crows screech, “Caww, caww, stop and we’ll give you the latest on the Sunday school superindendent, Caww, caww”. But the eagle calls back, “I’m not interested! I’m going up beyond the clouds where I can look full into the face of the sun”. Even though an eagle flies high into the blinding sun, he is equally adapted to dark mountain valleys. He has two sets of eyelids. With his earthly eyelids he can see perfectly well down at ground level, or he can roll down his heavenly ones and play in the glaring glory of the sun.
Christians must know how to walk on the earth as well as fly in the glory. It is possible to become so spiritual that we cannot see reality in our daily lives. As the eagle mount high above the clouds, he sails those great air currents into the very Presence of God. You and I are not fashioned for the dirt and pollution. We were not born to be dirty crows on a telephone line. We are appointed to the pure worship of God, to climb into the rare atmosphere of the holy of holies.
How High Can We Go?: Some ask, “How far can I go Baxter?”. “Enoch walked with God and he was not: for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). That eagle flew high! One day he flew so high that God said, “Enoch, it is closer for you to come up than to go back”. How high? George Mueller was once told by a captain of a ship on which he was a passenger that the ship could not make New York on schedule because of dense fog that had set in, “We’ll see about that” said Mueller. As Mueller prayed, the fog lifted and the boat hastened in towards his waiting appointment in New York. People can say, “I don’t believe that God lifts fog!”. They will stay in a fog but God lifts fogs for people who have the faith to have fogs lifted.
God has made us eagles like Himself and He wants us to fly! All the experiences that we become so excited about – our conversion, our baptism in the Holy Spirit, the spiritual gifts – are but a part of the introduction to the supernatural life that demands us to become God-like, because we are partakers of the divine nature.
When Eagles Die: Every eagle will have his downtime. He may be sick or molting but he never panics. He finds a rock and sits there letting the healing power of the sun do it’s work. If you find a low place in your life, do not start running around trying to find God – for the people will say to you, “Here is Christ, there is Christ” and it will bring you frustration. David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord” (Psalm 40:1). God often has a work to do and all we are asked to do is to wait. There will come again a time of mounting up on wings, but the waiting must come first. Every eagle knows when his time for death has come. He finds a high rock where he can watch the setting sun and settles down to wait and then dies watching the sun.
There is only one picture on my study wall and it is that of my saintly maternal grandmother. When I was a very young child, Grandma took over much of my rearing. My earliest memories are that of toddling up to the picturesque little picket fence in front of her home on a Saturday morning, looking forward to all the delicious smelling goodies that she took from the cavernous depths of her vast old-fashioned oven. How I loved her. Because of the religious confusion that was in our home, I walked in rebellion as a teenager, but Grandma never let go of me. She was living in our home by that time and I can remember well stumbling into the house at three or four o’clock in the morning and seeing her light shining under the door. I could hear her sobbing, “Oh God, oh God!”. Even though I usually felt like kicking the door down I knew that it meant something.
Grandma’s Answer: The time came when God got me. I had dissipated my life until I was a moral, physical and spiritual wreck before He found me. Using what musical talent I had, I set out in the Lord’s work and soon found myself in the ministry. Grandma ended up moving with us to Vancouver, BC where I found had my first important charge. She came to every service and sat in the front row and just smiled at me. (I don’t think she heard a word I said). She was saying, “You answered Lord, You answered”. She was nearly eighty and had the most beautiful white hair that you ever saw. Every day for four hours Grandma would sit out in her old rocker and rock out an anthem of praise and supplication to God for me. Her prayers sustained me in a way that I was to realize only after she was gone. One day when I was with her she suddenly said, “I’m going home”. “Home?” I asked, “Home where?”. “I’m going home to be with the Lord” she replied as if it were something quite ordinary.
“Oh Grandma” I objected, “don’t do that!”. “Yes” she insisted, as though she and the Lord had talked it over and it was settled. A little unsure of what to make of it, I asked, “What are you going to do?”. Quite positively she answered, “I am giving notice on my room. I will go back to the prairies to spend Christmas with the children and then I am going home”.
Looking Into the Sun: That is exactly what she did. With Christmas only three months away, she went back to the prairies for the holidays, wrote her Christmas cards and put everything in order. When she was ready, she called all the children together and did all the decent things that one does when one dies. She called for the pastor and had him read her favouite Psalm (she was two verses ahead of him by memory) and told everyone goodbye. When she had attented to everything she turned her face toward the sun and slipped into the Presence of God. Grandma was an eagle. She died as eagles die, looking into the sun. Somehow I think this is how saints were meant to step into eternity.
There is great reward in God for those who will dare to be eagles and learn to soar into what God had purposed us to be. God is calling us to press into Him and rise higher in Him. He is calling us to new heights of divine awareness, new decisions and a new set of priorities. He is calling us to be eagles.
You can find this, and other transcripts of Ern Baxter, here.