We Christians who observe the season of Lent find ourselves, with each week’s Gospel lesson, traveling with Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. Come Palm Sunday, we wave palm branches and raise our voices, as though joining the excited multitude that greeted Jesus as he arrived at the holy city. What a glorious celebration! Can you hear the hosannas? All of them? Those hosannas will change you. They’ll change the world.
Jesus had very intentionally arranged things for his dramatic entrance to Jerusalem. He knew thousands of pilgrims from Judea and Galilee would be visiting the city for the beginning of Passover, and that many of them would be familiar with the remarkable things he had said and done in the preceding weeks and days, including the raising of his friend Lazarus from the grave. He sent his disciples ahead to prepare for his coming, instructing them to find a donkey, enabling him to ride through the throng as the Scriptures foretold. “Rejoice greatly,” proclaimed the prophet Zechariah. “Your king comes to you; righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9 NIV). “Could this be our long-awaited Messiah?” they wondered aloud. Imagine how thrilled they were! Can you hear the hosannas?
The gathering crowds welcomed him with great fervor! They saluted him as none less than their king, laying their cloaks and palm branches in his path. With great jubilation they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Can you hear the hosannas? For these Jews, “Hosanna” was a special word of praise, a sort of Hebrew “hooray!” Originating from Psalm 118, it was sung repeatedly during certain Passover celebrations. Seeing Jesus on that donkey, entering Jerusalem as Passover began, it seemed to them a perfect, even inevitable, occasion to shout it out! “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” they shouted. (Matthew 21:9 NIV)
Certainly, Jesus heard the hosannas. How could he not? He also heard the meaning and yearning behind all of the revelry and adulation. In its original context the word “hosanna” wasn’t a joyful exclamation so much as a desperate plea for help. It was a combination of two words, one meaning “save,” and the other to “beseech” or “beg.” Behind their praises was this cry: “Save us, we pray!” The gathering Passover pilgrims celebrated his arrival because they thought he was the Messiah king they had envisioned. They were already anticipating that he would defeat the Romans and restore the nation of Israel. And so they cheered! “Hooray!” Jesus, however, knew that the kind of salvation they needed went far deeper than that. He knew it would require a far greater victory, at a far greater price. He knew why he had come to Jerusalem. As we now know, he was prepared to give his very life to save them from their own sinful selves and to restore them as God’s forgiven children. Yes, he heard their hosannas. He hears ours as well. What do you cry out? Do you cry out, “Lord, save us, we pray”? Is Jesus hearing your hosannas?
Even now from heaven, Jesus hears the countless “hosannas” of a broken and hurting world. He sees our desperate state. He knows how lost and doomed we are without him. We need Jesus the Savior! We feel the hurt and fear the death that unavoidably result from our sinful and unloving ways. In truth, all people do. They cannot rescue themselves. With troubled hearts, people all around the globe, are crying out in their own languages, “Please save me, I pray.” Their “hosannas” ring out from war-torn, disaster- plagued, and spiritually impoverished corners of the world. Some of them know something of Jesus, but don’t yet know him as their Savior. Others know nothing of him at all, but still they cry out to be helped, to be saved. Imagine them all – all nations, all people – gathered outside the gates to Jerusalem waiting for a Savior. Can you hear their hosannas?
As Jesus sent his first disciples to prepare for his arrival in Jerusalem, so now he sends us to the nations. He will attune our ears to their cries. He will supply our lips with the Good News they long to hear. He will come to them as their Savior, and he will change their lives! He will turn their hosannas, as he has turned ours, from desperate pleas to joyful praises! “Hosanna,” they will shout. “Thank God we’re saved!” Ultimately, the day will come when all peoples will gather together in the heavenly Jerusalem and greet the Savior Jesus! Can you imagine? Millions of voices shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!” Can you hear them? What are we waiting for? Let’s go!