God Loves To See His Children Fly
Hans Bobblinger wanted to fly.
Problem. Hans Bobblinger lived before there were airplanes. 1600’s. Ulm, Germany. You see, he was gripped by gravity and controlled by circumstance, so his greatest dream seemed to be beyond his reach. However, Hans Bobblinger had made a career out of helping people gripped by gravity and controlled by circumstance. His profession was the manufacture of artificial limbs. In that day, when many diseases and wounds were treated by amputation, you can imagine that Hans Bobblinger of Ulm, Germany stayed very busy. He helped people be mobile again. So it occurred to him that he might be able to apply the expertise of his craft to building artificial wings, and with those artificial wings, he might be able to fly. Once he had constructed the wings, he took them, and two friends to help, up into the foothills of the Bavarian Alps near where he lived, to see if he could fly. Fortunately, where he jumped there were significant updrafts blowing. The winds caught those wings which he had strapped to his body and he flew. His heart soared. His friends applauded. And God smiled. How do I know God smiled? God always smiles when His children fly. God always smiles when we attempt the impossible. God always smiles when we have the courage to try what others say we cannot do. God always smiles when we use the gifts He has given us to accomplish great things. Want some examples? Check the Book.
Who would ever have dreamed that an 80-year-old shepherd could play chicken with the most powerful man on earth, the Egyptian Pharaoh, but he did—and Moses flew. Who would ever have dreamed that a teenage shepherd could go face-to-face, or rather face-to-kneecap, with a giant but David did—and the stones flew and the giant fell. Who would ever have dreamed that some night-shift shepherds would be the first to see the Son of God, but they did—and the angels flew and their hearts soared.
You see, God is a God who loves to set people free. God is a God who, when He finds His children locked in the cages of circumstance, delights in opening the doors. God is a God who has made an eternity out of putting courage in fearful hearts and strength in weak legs and wings on wingless arms. God is a God who loves to see His children fly. And conversely, God is a God who hates anything or anyone who keeps His children from soaring.
That’s the message of this passage in Matthew. To be sure, in this text, you will not find the words “fly” or “soar” or “dreams”. But you will find an interesting story about a fig tree and a fascinating promise about a mountain. When you knit the two together, you find the God who sets His people free and who challenges anything or anyone who dares to hold them back.
Look, first, at this interesting story about a fig tree.
Jesus was on His way from Bethany into Jerusalem. It was Tuesday—the last Tuesday before the crucifixion—it’s Tuesday and Friday’s coming. The day before, on Monday, Jesus had cleansed the temple, arousing the ire and the opposition of the religious leaders of His day. On Tuesday, then, He left Bethany on His way back to Jerusalem. He walked down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley, to the north and east of the walls of the city, in the shadow of the temple mount. There in the valley, He chanced to encounter a fig tree which, Matthew says, had leaves but no fruit. The symbolism was more than Jesus could take. All the appearance and none of the power. All of the show and none of the substances. All of the flash and none of the faith. The anger He felt on Monday when He saw the shallow, superficial faith of the moneychangers in the temple, returned on Tuesday when He saw this fig tree which produced beautiful leaves but no fruit. And what Jesus did to the fig tree on Tuesday was exactly what He had done to the temple on Monday.
Friends, note this down because Jesus made it crystal clear the last week of His life: God hates hollow religion. God hates religion that is used for personal benefit and not for holy honor. He hated it in Jerusalem on Monday when He saw the hucksters and the hypocrites in the temple. So He said: “This is wrong,” and He cast them out. Then on Tuesday when He saw this fig tree which had leaves but no fruit, it all came crashing back into His mind and heart. So once again, He said—parabolically, symbolically, representatively—He said: “I won’t take itanymore,” and He cursed the fig tree.
Don’t miss the message! God hates hollow and shallow religion. God is incompatible with insincere faith. My friends, God in Jesus Christ, calls us to a passionate and persistent believing. He calls us to be what we are called to be—the children of the King. He calls us to a faith that is truehearted and wholehearted. He calls us to soar in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
No one understands that better than Robert Reed. Robert Reed has cerebral palsy. His hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can’t feed or bathe himself. He can’t put on his clothes, brush his teeth, or comb his hair. His shirts are held together by strips of Velcro. His speech drags like a tape at slow speed. But that didn’t keep him from going to college and graduating with a degree in foreign languages. And it didn’t keep him from becoming a missionary to Portugal. He moved to Lisbon, alone, in 1972. There he rented an apartment, and found a restaurant owner who would feed him. Every day he would station himself in his wheelchair in the city park, and there he would distribute brochures about Jesus Christ. Within six years, he had led some seventy people to the Lord, one of whom became his wife, Rosa. The effect of his work began to spread. Today when Robert Reed preaches, they carry him in a wheelchair onto the platform. They lay a Bible on his lap. His stiff fingers force open the pages. Listeners are moved to tears of admiration at what they see. But Robert Reed doesn’t ask for pity or sympathy. Just the opposite. He begins every talk by holding his bent hand up in the air and saying “I have everything I need for joy”—and after that, his sermons take wings! God loves to see His children fly!
The church in Jesus’ day—and all too often it is true of the church in our day—tried to shackle people, to tie them down, to keep them from being all they could be. They said: “If you’re sick, it’s because you are being punished. If you’re crippled, it’s because you made a mistake. If you’re having a tough time in life, it’s because you don’t believe and do the right things.” Those who were closest to the temple were the quickest with the shackles.
That’s what happened to Hans Bobblinger. Remember him? From Ulm, Germany? One day he flew, and the word got around. It even reached the bishop at Ulm. The bishop knew that the king was coming to Ulm for a visit, and he thought the king might enjoy seeing Hans Bobblinger fly. So he asked Hans to fly for the king and Hans agreed. Problem. They couldn’t go up into the mountains; it had to be done down in Ulm. So Hans was going to jump off a small bluff over the Danube River. Problem. Down currents. Hans didn’t know anything about air currents. So there in front of the bishop, the king and the people of Ulm, he jumped and fell like a rock into the water. The king was unimpressed, the bishop was mortified, and Hans was ridiculed. Guess what the bishop preached the next Sunday in the cathedral at Ulm? “Man was not meant to fly.” Hans Bobblinger never flew again. He put away his wings. And he died a lonely recluse embarrassed by his failure. Gripped by gravity, and shackled by circumstance, he never flew again. Jesus would have cursed that as He cursed the fig tree.
You see, the church—this church—must be a place where people come to receive their wings, not to have them clipped. That’s what we as Christians are called to do—and that’s what this story about the fig tree is all about. We are called to help people find a sincere and fruitful faith. We are called to help people become what Christ wants them to be. We are called to set people free.
Now look at this fascinating promise about a mountain.
Jesus said to His disciples: “If you have true faith in me, then you can do more than I did to this fig tree. You can even say to this mountain…” Note, He said, “this mountain”—which makes me think—I may be wrong—but I think that here He was in the Kidron Valley, looking up at the temple mount above. And I wonder—again I may be wrong—but I wonder if Jesus didn’t point to the temple mount when He said, “You can say to this mountain, ‘Fall into the sea,’ and it will fall.” What’s the point? The point is that whatever stands between you and God, God will remove so that you can get to God. Did you hear that? Whatever stands between you and God, God will remove so that you can get to God. The message is that God is on our side even when the world is not. God is on our side even when circumstances work against us. God is on our side even when some, in the name of religion, try to put shackles upon us. God cares about us so much that God will move hell and He’ll move high water to get us home. God is on our side.
Tom Haggai is a traveling executive. He tells of being in an airport and making a long-distance phone call to his wife. When he finished, he hung up the phone and started to walk away. Suddenly the phone rang. He thought: “Probably the operator telling me I need to drop in some more money.” He picked up the phone. It was the operator. But she said: “Sir, I just wanted to tell you that after you hung up your wife said: ‘I love you and I’ll be glad when you get home.'”
God is the One who makes sure that we know that we are loved. He is in our corner. He is on our side. He is working in our behalf. And he says: “When all the mountains in your world look too big, look to Me—and I’ll make sure you get home.”
Now let me say that it bothers me when people take this promise of Jesus that we can move mountains and that whatever we ask in prayer we shall receive—it bothers me when people take that promise and say: “Well, God, I want you to give me a new car”…or “I want you to arrange a promotion for me at work”…or “I want some new hair because I’m going bald.” Let me be very careful here. God wants us to have good things in life, yes, but, dear friends, don’t relegate this powerful promise to something as puny as a paycheck! I mean, here is God in Jesus Christ, at the most critical time of His life, looking up at the very hill upon which He will be crucified—and He says: “I am going to move any mountain which will keep my children from coming home to heaven.” Don’t pervert that promise by saying: “If I pray for a Rolex, God will give me one.” Rubbish! A Rolex is a speck of dust compared to the mountains He moves. Don’t you see that He moved away your sin. He moved away your death. He moved away every reason in the world to keep you out of heaven. He moved these mountains into the sea when He was on the mountain of Calvary.
The message is that God wants you home. His greatest passion and His greatest purpose is to get you home. That’s on every page of this Book. God wants you home. He wants to give you wings. He wants to set you free forever. He wants you to take up residence with Him in the highest heaven. He wants to get you home. He is like the shepherd going through the fields, looking high and low—and you are the lost sheep and He won’t quit until He finds you. He is like the waiting father, walking up and down the front porch, up and down, up and down, looking for the child who wandered away, looking for the one who bears His image and wears His name—He is looking for you and He wants you home. That’s what the cross on the mount called Calvary is all about. God wants you to come home to Him.
One final word.
Do you remember that cathedral at Ulm, Germany? Problem. Not too many people go to church there anymore. It is frequented these days mostly by tourists. Do you know how most of those tourists get there?