This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Easter week. For those of us who are Jesus-followers, this is the turning point of human history, the fulcrum that tilts the universe from darkness to light.
We read about that first Palm Sunday in Mark 1:1-11, and Matthew 21:4-5.
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.' "
[Matthew 21:4-5 adds these verses:
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 "Say to the Daughter of Zion,
'See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' " ]
Back to Mark...
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.
9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
10 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"
"Hosanna in the highest!"
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?
When the people saw Jesus, and began shouting “Hosanna!,” they were calling out to Jesus, “Save us!”
Hosanna is a Hebrew word (hoshi`ah-na) that had become a greeting or shout of praise, but actually meant "Save!" or "Help!" Not surprisingly, forms of this word were used to address the king with a need (cf. 2 Sam 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26). The palm branches are symbolic of a victorious ruler.
"Hosanna" has the sense of immediacy. It would be correct to translate it as, "Please save us, and do it now!"
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (rather than a stallion), in his upside-down Kingdom way, desperation was in the air. The Jewish citizens were under the heavy yoke of the Roman Empire. They had heard about Jesus. Rumor was that he claimed to be a king. Even, the Messiah. When word got out that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, he was greeted as a king.
There were shouts of “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Clearly, the people saw in Jesus the answer to their nationalistic, messianic hopes.
Earlier, a crowd had wanted to make Jesus king (6:15). Now, this gathering was recognizing him as king, in the city of the great King. Here was the great dream of a Davidic ruler who would come and liberate Israel, establish peace, and subdue the Gentiles
The way Jesus entered Jerusalem was a deliberate, prophetic “Zechariah 9:9 act.” Zech. 9:9 reads: Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt.
Jesus enters Jerusalem in a kingly way, and the people respond in a kingly fashion. The imagery is regal, even messianic, though this is a humble Messiah. As the people spread their garments (NIV: their cloaks) on the road, a "red carpet" of sorts is produced.
He has come to rescue them. They people were about to be "hosanna-ed." But it was not going to happen as they imagined. Because Jesus is a different kind of king. He will "hosanna" the world by dying on a cross.
The meaning Jesus attaches to his triumphal entry is different from the peoples' expectations. N.T. Wright says, "That, perhaps, is where we can learn the most from this tory today."
People often turn to God when there’s something they want, and they want it to look a certain way. Here, in our Palm Sunday story, everyone wants Jesus to ride into the city and be the kind of king they say he ought to be. “Help!” “Save the life of my sick child!” “Pay my bills!” “Give us peace, now!”
Jesus does intend to respond to the people’s cries. He has come to seek and save the lost. He has come for people who need help. He will be there for people who are sick and need a doctor. But he is not coming to be all things to all people. He is not riding into Jerusalem to conform to the expectations of the crowds. He is going to answer, in his own way.
The people wanted a prophet. This prophet, Jesus, will tell the people they are under coming judgment.
They wanted a Messiah. This one is going to be enthroned on a pagan cross.
The crowds wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression. Jesus is going to do that, but in a far, far deeper way than they could envision.
Jesus is going beneath surface evil, into the depths of the human heart. N.T. Wright says: “Precisely because Jesus says ‘yes’ to their desires at the deepest level, he will have to say ‘no’ or ‘wait’ to the desires they are conscious of, and expressed.” (NTW, Matt, 68)
Once you cry out “Hosanna,” Jesus will “hosanna” you more thoroughly than you imagine, more deeply than you wanted. The hosanna-ing Jesus brings is not just a band aid. On Palm Sunday we are given “an object lesson in the mismatch between our expectations and God’s answer.” (NTW, Matthew, 69)
The bad news is that the crowds are going to be disappointed. The good news is that their disappointment is on a surface, shallow level. “Deep down, Jesus’ arrival at the great city is indeed the moment when salvation is dawning… The “Hosannas” were justified… they were correct…. but not for the reasons they supposed. To learn this lesson is to take a large step towards wisdom and humility, and towards genuine Christian faith.” (NTW, Matt, 69)
1. If you are a Jesus-follower, you have been hosanna-ed. You called. He answered. He came to your rescue. Think of how God has become your Rescuer. Make a list of things he has hosanna-ed you from. Carry it with you, and give God thanks.
2. Christ has not stopped loving you. He remains your Redeemer, your Rescuer. If there is an area in your life that needs hosanna-ing, identify it, and cry out to him in prayer.
My first two books are...
Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)
Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)
I am now writing...
Technology and Spiritual Formation
How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation