My guess is that when you first got saved, you could hardly wait to tell your friends, your neighbors, and the whole wide world about the most exciting thing that had just happened in your life. But sadly, many Christians lose their excitement to speak about Jesus after they have had the proverbial door slammed in there faces quite a few times. And the same thing can happen in just about any area of life. I remember when I first became Reformed, I was out to convince everyone to believe the same blessed doctrines. They had revolutionized my life, and I was one hard-core salesman. I probably should have tempered my sales tactics a little bit. But my enthusiasm could hardly be contained, much to the chagrin of some of my family and friends. But after being beat down a few hundred times, I got more cagey about sharing it.
Someone once said, "The gap between enthusiasm and indifference is filled with failures." And while there is truth to that, I think it is more often the case that the gap between enthusiasm and indifference is how many wet blankets people have put upon your enthusiasm. And it is really easy for us old codgers who think we are wiser to put a damper on the idealistic enthusiasm of youth, hoping to protect them from disappointment. That's what Joab did – he was trying to protect Ahimaaz.
But I am here to tell you that God is the author of enthusiasm (at least the kind that we are going to be talking about later), that Jesus is the exemplar of a man who is eaten up by holy zeal and burning with fervent desires. He is also the exemplar of a man who could not have enthusiasm beaten out of Him. 2 Peter three times calls upon every one of us to be enthusiastic about our Christian life and about extending Christ's glorious kingdom. It's the Greek word, σπουδάζω. And there are other related words that speak of the eager enthusiasm that ought to drive every aspect of our doctrine and Christian life. And when you look at the whole group of Hebrew and Greek words that deal with enthusiasm (such as zeal, eagerness, vehement desire, burning desire, etc), you realize that God wants us to fight against apathy because there is plenty in the Christian life to be enthusiastic about. And we need to be on guard that the realists in our midst do not totally rob us of the joyful exuberance that Ahimaaz had.
There really was something to be excited about (v. 19)
There was an amazing message (v. 19b)
Look at verse 19:
2Sam. 18:19 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, "Let me run now and take the news to the king, how the LORD has avenged him of his enemies."
There really was something to be excited about, and Ahimaaz wanted to share the good news, despite the long hard run that would be involved. After all, the winning of this battle was an amazing miracle, wasn't it? We already saw that David only had 20,000 troops arrayed against over 1,000,000 of Absalom's troops. Those are staggering odds. No wonder he is excited to share this.
But you know what? Ahimaaz had this enthusiasm for truth long before the battle was won. He considered it an honor to be fighting for David even when it looked hopeless. In chapter 17 he was willing to play the dangerous game of being a spy and passing news back and forth from within enemy territory to David. His adventure that started by hiding from Absalom's Gestapo in a water-well was the beginning of a young Indiana Jones adventure. But it is clear that this pastor's son shared his dad's faith in God, his commitment to the law of God, and his dad's willingness to lay down his life for the cause of God. Now, his dad wasn't able to fight, but Ahimaaz was quite willing to trust God against enormous odds in the battle for God's kingdom that took place in the early part of this chapter. And when they won the battle, it was glorious news. It was news that he was excited to share. And it was a God-centered message. "Let me run now and take the news to the king, how the LORD has avenged him of his enemies."
The idealism of youth was eager to share it (v. 19a)
The idealism of his youth is beautifully captured here. Someone once said, "Duty without enthusiasm becomes laborious; duty with enthusiasm becomes glorious." And it is so true. When we are motivated by a God-given enthusiasm, it is fun to make sacrifices. The Greek word σπουδάζω means to do something with intense motivation and effort. And all of the other related Greek and Hebrew words show how energizing this motivation can be. It's a wonderful thing. Now that's not to speak against doing your duty while plodding along. I probably have more times of plodding faithfulness than I do energetic enthusiasm. But those of us who trudge through duty should not try to kill the enthusiasm of others.
Joab's "realism" tries to temper Ahimaaz' idealism (v. 20)
Trying to shut down Ahimaaz' enthusiasm (v. 20a)
Now, I will have to admit that Joab had good reasons for trying to shut down the enthusiasm of Ahimaaz. Verse 20:
2Sam. 18:20 And Joab said to him, "You shall not take the news this day, for you shall take the news another day. But today you shall take no news, because the king's son is dead."
We can see here that Joab is not really opposed to enthusiastic young men. He likes this young man and says, "…you shall take the news another day." I trust you. I like your enthusiasm. I'll use you in the future. But you can't do it now.
Trying to protect Ahimaaz (v. 20b) but less protective of the Cushite (v. 21)
And commentators generally believe that Joab was trying to protect Ahimaaz from potential fallout with David. He doesn't tell Ahimaaz the whole reason for forbidding him to run. But he thinks that telling him, "… for the king's son is dead" ought to be enough. This is not going to be as exciting a day to David as you might think. This is not going to be the good news to David that you might think.
For some reason, most of my commentaries say that Joab thought that David might kill Ahimaaz out of frustration, and was actually protecting his life. I am very, very skeptical of that interpretation. It is true, that in chapter 1, David did kill the Amalekite who had claimed to have killed king Saul. In chapter 4 David did execute Baanah and Rechab when they brought the head of Ishbosheth to David. But those were really different situations. In both of those previous cases David was killing those who had a direct hand in killing their king. So I'm not so sure that Ahimaaz's life was in danger. It is more likely that Joab was protecting Ahimaaz from disappointment. But either way, everyone is agreed that Joab is trying to temper the enthusiasm of Ahimaaz and he had good reasons for doing so. Interestingly, he is not quite so protective of the Cushite. Verse 21:
2Sam. 18:21 Then Joab said to the Cushite, "Go, tell the king what you have seen." So the Cushite bowed himself to Joab and ran.
Idealism can be persistent (vv. 22-23)
It tries again (v. 22a)
But in verses 22-23 we see that idealism is not quite so easily suppressed. Verses 22-23:
2Sam. 18:22 And Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, "But whatever happens, please let me also run after the Cushite." So Joab said, "Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?"
2Sam. 18:23 "But whatever happens," he said, "let me run." So he said to him, "Run." Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.
The first phrase in verse 22 shows that he tries again. It's hard to suppress enthusiasm. In fact, it has been one of the graces of God that has enabled me to persevere through tough times. I am so grateful for God-given zeal. The Biblical hope of Christ's victory puts fire in my bones.
It is not motivated by reward (v. 22b)
The next phrase shows that he is not motivated by reward. He says, "But whatever happens…", a phrase that commentators believe means that he doesn't care about getting a reward from David. That's not why he is running. He's just excited about going and telling him the incredible news.
It longs for action (v. 22c)
The next phrase shows he longs for action: "please let me run." So we are not talking about an idle enthusiasm. We are talking about an enthusiasm that drives us to action. When Biblical faith, hope, and vision drive your life, you want to see the Bible put into action. You try over and over again even if you don't at first succeed.
It isn't dissuaded by realism (v. 22d)
And Ahimaaz is not dissuaded by realism. Joab's objection, "Why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?" was a phrase that shows Joab was being realistic. You don't have all the facts. But Ahimaaz is eager to run anyway. And its good for you young people to be eager even when you don't have all the answers.
It presses past obstacles (v. 23a)
And Ahimaaz presses past these obstacles by continuing to ask permission to run. In the military you are under greater restrictions to your freedom than a private citizen would be. But it doesn't keep him from asking.
It wants to be active (v. 23b)
And the motivation to run is still there. So Joab finally relents and lets him run. Verse 23:
2Sam. 18:23 "But whatever happens," he said, "let me run." So he said to him, "Run." Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.
Robert Bergen explains why Joab let him go and a bit on the geography. He says,
Seeing Ahimaaz would not be dissuaded and believing that he would arrive only after David had expended his emotions against the Cushite, Joab gave leave.
Once on his way, Ahimaaz made his journey to Mahanaim "by way of the plain" – that is, by running over the relatively flat terrain paralleling the Jordan River – instead of climbing up and down over the rugged forested hills as the Cushite was doing. This less arduous path, though longer, permitted Ahimaaz to arrive at Mahanaim before "the Cushite."
So the first five verses of our pericope give a tiny portrait of enthusiastic idealism versus Joab's mature realism.
When others are enthusiastic for something different (vv. 24-32)
But the real wet blanket comes in the next verses. David's reactions not only take the wind out of Ahimaaz's sails, but they also take the wind out of everyone's sails. I won't be preaching on chapter 19 till next week (and we will be looking at it from a different angle), but I do want you to at least notice how David completely robbed the joy of victory from his people. Chapter 19, beginning at verse 1.
2Sam. 19:1 And Joab was told, "Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom."
2Sam. 19:2 So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people. For the people heard it said that day, "The king is grieved for his son."
And notice especially the significant words in verse 3:
2Sam. 19:3 And the people stole back into the city that day, as people who are ashamed steal away when they flee in battle.
David poured cold water on the fire of their zeal. He threw a wet blanket over their enthusiasm. He turned joy to shame, and celebration into mourning. There are times when we leaders must hide our emotions for the well-being of those that we lead. Those who excuse the expression of lousy attitudes with the lousy excuse that they just being honest need to think about these verses. The Proverbs warn us to not express our whole heart.
David is not lacking in enthusiasm
Sitting in the gate (v. 24a)
Now, it wasn't as if David had been totally lacking in his own enthusiasm. Chapter 18, verse 24 says,
2Sam. 18:24 Now David was sitting between the two gates. And the watchman went up to the roof over the gate, to the wall, lifted his eyes and looked, and there was a man, running alone.
Notice that David was sitting between the two gates. He was anticipating the outcome. He was hoping for good word concerning the battle, but especially concerning his son. He didn't just wait in his room. He's out there itching to hear what would happen.
An assigned watchman (v. 24b)
He had obviously assigned a watchman to the tower.
He is anticipating news (v. 25-26)
And in verses 25-26 we see that he was anticipating news:
2Sam. 18:25 Then the watchman cried out and told the king. And the king said, "If he is alone, there is news in his mouth." And he came rapidly and drew near.
2Sam. 18:26 Then the watchman saw another man running, and the watchman called to the gatekeeper and said, "There is another man, running alone!" And the king said, "He also brings news."
David was not apathetic. He just had a different vision of what he wanted to see. And our enthusiasm is controlled by our vision. Frequently, the joy suckers of this world are good people who just have different expectations. They get upset over the things that you get excited over, and you wonder why. They oppose some of the things that you support. It's not necessarily that they are bad; they just are driven by a different vision. But unfortunately, those people can dim the enthusiasm in our walk – and especially in the walk of the young people.
He is hoping for good news (v. 27)
Anyway, David is hoping for good news. Verse 27:
2Sam. 18:27 So the watchman said, "I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok." And the king said, "He is a good man, and comes with good news."
At least he is hoping.
But he shows no enthusiasm for the good news
He listens to the incredibly exciting news (v. 28)
But once the messenger comes, David shows no enthusiasm for the good news that Ahimaaz brings. What was good news for Ahimaaz? It was that David's enemies had been vanquished. Before he even gets to David he blurts out while still running, "All is well." That gets David's hopes up. Verse 28.
2Sam. 18:28 So Ahimaaz called out and said to the king, "All is well!" Then he bowed down with his face to the earth before the king, and said, "Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king!"
That was indeed good news. And part of the glory for Ahimaaz was that he was alive to tell David. David shows no interest in that. That would hurt. And part of the glory for Ahimaaz was the privilege of being part of a miraculous campaign against Absalom. And he loved David, and was loyal to David. There were good reason for his enthusiasm. But David brushed those aside. And thus his words were unwittingly brushing aside love, loyalty, enthusiasm for David, faithfulness, and self-sacrifice - as if it was unimportant. I'm sure he didn't intend to, but that was the effect of his words. And that's what made Joab so angry in the next chapter.
But obviously has an entirely different interest (v. 29)
And though David was no doubt relieved at the news that the army had won, it would have been disheartening to have David's first words be the words in verse 29, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" That would have cut like a knife. Instead of asking about the welfare of his troops, and how many people had died, he asks if Absalom is OK. I'm sure that Ahimaaz is silently thinking, "What are you talking about?! Absalom is the enemy. We were fighting against Absalom and risking our lives to protect you from Absalom!" He doesn't say it, but that had to have been going through his mind. And so commentaries assume that Ahimaaz's next words – which suddenly hide some the very news that he had been planning to bring – came from a sudden realization that David would not be happy with the news of his son's death after all. It didn't make sense to him, but he answered David:
2Sam. 18:29 …. "When Joab sent the king's servant and me your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I did not know what it was about."
Now that is a bold-faced lie. He knew from verse 20 that Absalom was dead. But the fact that he had previously been eager to bring the message and now is suddenly hiding the true message shows a dampening of his enthusiasm. The wind has been taken out of his sails and instead of joy there is fear. That's why he lied.
And puts Ahimaaz to the side (v. 30)
David shows little interest in Ahimaaz at this point. Verse 30:
2Sam. 18:30 And the king said, "Turn aside and stand here." So he turned aside and stood still.
He does the same thing with the Cushite (vv. 31-32)
And exactly the same thing happened with the Cushite in verses 31-32
2Sam. 18:31 Just then the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, "There is good news, my lord the king! For the LORD has avenged you this day of all those who rose against you."
2Sam. 18:32 And the king said to the Cushite, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" So the Cushite answered, "May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise against you to do harm, be like that young man!"
This is good news. This is something the king should be excited about. But a father's love gets in the way of a king's duties, and verse 33 gives the ultimate kick in the stomach to every soldier that has risked his life to fight against Absalom. Verse 33:
The wind was completely taken out of everyone's sails by David's treating of the good news as bad news (v. 33)
2Sam. 18:33 Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: "O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!"
The wind was completely taken out of the sails of everyone when David treated this good news as if it was the worst news he could have gotten. There was no praise for their efforts, or their sacrifices, or their love, or their loyalty. There was not one word of gratefulness expressed. Instead, David treated them as if they had mortally wounded him.
These are the kinds of responses that can turn enthusiastic idealists into indifferent cynics. It happens between husbands and wives; it happens between children and parents. And if that has happened to you, it is understandable if you lose your enthusiasm and start simply going through the motions. God has made us to be creatures of vision, and when the reason for vision is taken away, we tend to trudge aimlessly through life. That's one of the reasons we tried to find out what the sense of calling or vision that was that God was putting on our children's lives. We wanted them to pursue that vision and be driven by that calling. And so there is vision involved.
God has also made us to be creatures of hope, and when hope is spoiled or soiled, it takes the fun out of life. God has made us to be creatures of faith – a faith that can move mountains and conquer the land of Canaan, but when people routinely chip away at our faith we can easily find ourselves just going through the motions. God has made us to be people of love and loyalty, but when our love or loyalty has been spurned, it's easy to close our hearts off and no longer try.
And so the question comes, how did Jesus continue to be driven by enthusiasm when others had done exactly these things to Him? And the answer is that He got His vision daily from the throne of His Father, not from other humans. He lived by faith in God, not faith in man. He got His hope from God, and not from the responses of others. His love and loyalty to others did not flow from their love and loyalty to Him; His love and loyalty to others flowed from a prior love that He had to the Father. His faithfulness was driven by a joy in God's plan, and for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross. So even though your loss of enthusiasm is perfectly understandable from a human perspective, I want to spend the last few minutes of this sermon showing you how to have an enthusiasm that circumstances cannot take away.
But I want to start by showing that God Himself puts a wet blanket on our enthusiasm when it is not Spirit-given. And He does so for our good. If your vision, faith, hope, loyalty, and enthusiasm does not have an eternal perspective, it will let you down. In fact, it is interesting that Jesus sought to destroy the enthusiasm of the people because he knew it was humanistic.
Please turn to John 6. In John chapter 6, the disciples kind of felt like Jesus had kicked them in the stomach and had robbed them of any reason to be enthusiastic any more. Jesus ran away from the enthusiastic crowds who wanted to force Him to become their king. He treated their enthusiasm as idolatry. He exposed the fact that they didn't want a Savior from sin. They just wanted a political savior from Rome. They wanted somebody who could feed them. And Jesus spoke some very sobering truth to those crowds so that they would not have a zeal without knowledge. Much zeal and enthusiasm does indeed need to be tempered by Biblical realism. When the Jews complained about the way He was dashing their hopes, Jesus gave them words that were very offensive. Verse 60 says,
John 6:60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"
In response to their false hope, false faith, false enthusiasm, Jesus said,
John 6:61 … "Does this offend you?
John 6:62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?
John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
He is giving to them the source of true enthusiasm based on a true hope, a true faith, and true knowledge and by the power of the Spirit. But they don't get it, so He continues to warn them, saying:
John 6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.
John 6:65 And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father."
John 6:66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
John 6:67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?"
John 6:68 But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
That was definitely not an overly enthusiastic endorsement of Jesus. "Where shall we go? We don't have much choice. And we are certainly not going to abandon the truth." But Jesus had taken the wind out of their sails. At this point Jesus had been such a wet blanket on their enthusiasm that they were simply plodding. They were not going to leave Him, but neither were they too excited. But because they had a true knowledge, true faith, and a true hope, they remained faithful. That's good. Plodding is sometimes good. At least they did not react like the wilderness generation in Deuteronomy 1:28 and leave. That generation said,
Deut. 1:28 Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, "The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there." '
There are some people who can give you very good reasons why they have given up faithfulness. Not only have they lost their enthusiasm, they are not willing to even plod.
Now I have brought these various Scriptures together to show that God sometimes dashes our enthusiasm to the ground in order to replace it with something much better. The same forlorn disciples who were holed up in the upper room and fearful after Christ's death regained an enthusiasm to speak the truth boldly in the book of Acts even when people tried to beat it out of them. It was a Spirit-given enthusiasm that any one of us can be renewed in. It wasn't simply that Jesus had straightened out their faith, their hope, and their vision for the future. That is important; but it went beyond that. Their faith, hope, and vision became an internal energizing as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
And you cannot read Acts chapters 2 and following without having a longing rise up within that makes us say, "Lord, I wish I could have that boldness! I wish I could have that world-conquering vision! I wish I could be as enthusiastic to share my goods with the brethren! I wish I had their hunger for the word of God as they continued in the apostles' doctrine daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house. I wish I could have their loyalty and steadfast faithfulness! I wish I could be as excited about my Christianity as they obviously were!"
And brothers and sisters, what I want to say to you this morning is, "You can. But you cannot do it by yourself. Daily you need to go to the throne of grace. And daily you need to be filled with the Spirit." And if you don't know where to start, I would suggest that you get that Spiritual Warfare Prayers book and read that first prayer from your heart for the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 1:3 promises you that you have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. You've got a bank account with millions of spiritual dollars, and it is there for the withdrawal. And you withdraw those resources by faith and through prayer. And of course, the greatest resource that you need to ask for is the Holy Spirit Himself – the most enthusiastic Being in this universe. In Acts 4 you see the prayers of the church ascending to God, and verse 31 says,
Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
And the chapter goes on to talk about the incredible enthusiasm of their Christianity that began turning the world upside down. Idealism is not just a thing for youth. It is a thing for all Spirit-filled Christians. A. W. Tozer once said,
God dwells in a state of perpetual enthusiasm.
Think about that. That's an amazing statement. And I believe it is a Scriptural statement. So he said,
God dwells in a state of perpetual enthusiasm. He is delighted with all that is good and lovingly concerned about all that is wrong. He pursues His labors always in a fullness of holy zeal. No wonder the Spirit came at Pentecost as a sound of a rushing mighty wind and sat in tongues of fire on every forehead. ... Whatever else happened at Pentecost, one thing that cannot be missed by the most casual observer was the sudden upsurging of moral enthusiasm. Those first disciples burned with a steady, inward fire. They were enthusiastic to the point of complete abandon.
Brothers and sisters. I want that every day, which means I want the filling of the Spirit every day. Though Ahimaaz' enthusiasm is an enthusiasm that could easily be dashed to the ground, the enthusiasm that the Holy Spirit gives cannot so easily be extinguished. Yes, human love in marriage may die, but if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, the Song of Solomon speaks of a romantic love given by God that many waters cannot extinguish. And the reason it cannot be extinguished by hard knocks, cynicism, or wet blankets is because Song of Songs 8:6 says that this romantic enthusiasm is divinely given. The literal Hebrew says, "It's flames are flames of fire, a flame of Yahweh." Sometimes God makes the enthusiasm of marriage to die and lose hope so that people will go to the throne of God for a supernatural enthusiasm that many waters cannot extinguish.
Yes, enthusiasm for life, for family, for kingdom, for church, for God's glory, and even for your calling in life can grow dim. It can grow dim because of thoughtless, careless remarks such as David made to Ahimaaz. But cry out to God for the filling of the Holy Spirit and an enthusiasm engendered by the Spirit of God Himself will motivate you.
When you have the same Spirit who filled Jesus, like Jesus, you too will have the zeal for God's house eating you up. You too will endure the cross for the joy that is set before you. You too will desire the Lord's Table as Jesus did with fervent desire. You too will have passion for prayer that will sometimes keep you up all night. You too will find yourself driven into the wilderness, driven to minister, and driven to do the Father's will. Let's make it our prayer that we will no longer allow the wet blankets of others dampen our enthusiasm and our zeal for the things of God. We can feel sorry for those who are themselves wet blankets, but let's not become like them. Let's be a Spirit-driven and Word-based church that cannot be shaken from a zeal and enthusiasm to live and work and talk for our awesome God. Amen.