Matthew 21:1-11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The crowds that went ahead of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)
Our English language doesn’t quite catch it. To us, the name Jesus and the Hebrew word Hosanna sound completely unrelated, but in their original language, they make beautiful harmony. Let me explain.
When the angel Gabriel first appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the very Son of God, he also gave her God’s command: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). “You will call him Yeshua (Joshua or Jesus),” which literally means “the Lord saves.”
Years later, as Yeshua (Jesus) rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the cry “Hosanna” filled the air. Hoshianna — from the very same verb as Jesus’ name. Hoshianna literally means “save us now!”
How fitting was this shout, this cry, as our Savior rode into Jerusalem. Yeshua Hoshianna! “The Lord who saves, save us now!”
Hosanna! Just one word in Hebrew that was related to Jesus’ own name, but in English three words of truth that summarized everything he came into this world to do: “Save us now!”
As God, in his grace, has brought us to the beginning of Holy Week again, may this cry be found on our lips too: “Hosanna!” There is no word more appropriate.
On a Sunday in early spring, 30 A.D, Jesus and his disciples set out from Bethany to Jerusalem, a city which means “house of peace.” By the end of this Passover festival week, the “house of peace”—Jerusalem—would be shaking with hatred and violence, the crowds nearly rioting and not stopping until this prophet from Nazareth in Galilee was captured, tortured, and, finally, executed. That’s what lay at the end of the Palm Sunday road. No matter how lovely and joyful the procession was that afternoon—with colorful garments and pungent palms paving the way — at the end lay darkness and death.
And Jesus knew it. But his disciples were still in the dark, as was the excited crowd.
By the end of the week, the crowd’s mood changed. Perhaps there were some who got caught up in the emotion on Sunday, so they praised Jesus as King with the crowd on the road into Jerusalem. They also got caught up with the emotion on Friday, so they shouted to crucify their King with the crowd outside Pilate’s Praetorium. By the end of the week, the disciples abandoned Jesus to face his enemies alone and to die alone. The sad reality is that most in the crowd probably cried “Hosanna” with their voices but not with the voice of faith.
Is it really any different today? There is so much talk about “faith” in this country. Just about everybody claims to have “faith.” But what is “faith”? What does it mean to be “religious”? How do you define “spiritual”? Sad to say, the prevailing attitude today is that I get to define what my faith is. I get to decide my personal beliefs and how I will express them in worship or in the way I live my life.
That type of thinking can even affect God’s people. In one sense the cheering crowd had “faith,” but it became apparent that week that for many people “faith” was only “custom,” “tradition,” “ritual.” There were curiosity seekers in the crowd, too. They were the ones asking, “Who is this?” Perhaps they got swept up in the parade. For many, faith was crying at the King but not crying to the King.
The problem is that people don’t understand that faith needs an object. It’s not just a “feeling” or a “positive vibe.” You don’t just “believe”; you don’t just “have faith”; you need to have faith in something or someone.
People want to be “spiritual,” but not “religious.” They want to say they believe in something, without having that something control how they live. They want “deeds,” but not “creeds.” They want to believe … but only if it matches what their lifestyle choices are.
We Christians get caught up in this thinking, too.
We shout “Hosanna” to Jesus with the crowd in church on Sunday, but we betray Jesus when we are surrounded by his enemies on Thursday. We deny Jesus among our friends at a party on Friday. We crucify his Word when we don’t agree with what it’s telling us to do on Saturday.
We can be guilty of turning our back on our Savior. We may sing loud “Hosannas” in church. We may read our Bible and revel in the majesty of the King of kings. But when we leave the church or close our Bible, our “Hosannas” can be silenced.
We do not want our faith to become like the faith of some of the Palm Sunday crowd.
Holy Week is an excellent time to remind ourselves of what real faith it. Real faith is driven into our ears, eyes and hearts with all our special worship services and special liturgies and special decorations of the church.
We can’t come to our Good Friday service just because we really like the service of darkness or want to put a nail into the cross. We cannot come to worship on Good Friday without standing at the foot of the cross in sorrow knowing that our sins put our Savior on that cross. We also stand at the foot of the cross in joy knowing that our Savior chose to go to that cross for sinners like us.
We cannot come to Easter worship just because we should at least go to church on Easter or because we love to see the Living Cross above the altar. We come to worship on Easter understanding that the tomb is empty, Jesus is alive, and we are alive in him!
We must not join with the crowd shouting at the King, lest what God said through Isaiah about his people of old becomes true of us: “These people ... honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). No. Do not come to cry “Hosanna” at the King, but in true faith cry “Hosanna” to the King.
What’s the difference? Crying “Hosanna” to the King means to confess that he is your only hope of salvation and that without him you are eternally lost. Crying “Hosanna” to the King means to confess our sins and recognize the punishment they deserve, to abandon all hope of saving ourselves or finding some assurance of heaven in our good behavior. It means coming to him spiritually naked and poor and broken and to look to him for clothing and true wealth and healing. Crying “Hosanna” to the King in true faith means to come to him and plead, “Save me now! There is no other way!”
And those who, by God’s grace, cry to the King in true faith are heard by him. David wrote in Psalm 3:4: “I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.” In David’s day the “holy mountain” was where the ark of the covenant was kept, on the future site of the temple. But now God’s holy mountain is Calvary. How loudly and clearly he answers us there when we cry to him, “Hosanna — save us!” There on the cross hangs the answer for our problem of sin — the only answer there is. There hangs Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Crowned with thorns then, he is now crowned with glory and honor. He rode into Jerusalem to go to that hill and die for you.
Do you know who Stanislav Petrov is? Probably not.
Stanislav Petrov died on May 19, 2017. Most mainstream news agencies ignored his death. However, the BBC did a news story on him being the man who saved the world.
Now that’s the kind of title that will interest just about any Christian pastor.
Here's the story: in 1983, Stanislav Petrov was serving in a Russian military installation, which was supposed to provide an early warning if computers detected missiles launching from the U.S. On September 23rd of that year, his computers started shooting out paper and telling him that the U.S. had begun an attack.
Petrov had only one job to do.
He was to look at the information and pass it on to his superiors who would not question him or second guess him. They would just begin the promised retaliation. Petrov knew his duty. He picked up the phone and made a call.
He called the duty officer at army headquarters and reported the computers had had a breakdown.
After he made the call, there was nothing to do but sit and wait. Petrov knew that his wait was going to be a short one. In 25 minutes, he would know if America had launched those missiles. He would know because the missiles would detonate, and that would mean his hunch had been wrong and his country, his family, everything he loved was gone.
The clock ticked off the minutes. There were no reports of any detonations. Petrov was able to breathe again. Only later was it found that the satellites had misinterpreted the sun reflecting off some clouds, and Petrov became the man who may have saved the world.
This week we celebrate and worship the Man who did save the world.
Jesus followed his Father’s orders, came to earth and did everything he was supposed to do. He fulfilled God’s Law; he resisted temptation for us; he carried our sins for us; he died and rose for us.
If Jesus had failed in his duty anywhere along the line, the result would have been catastrophic. Not just one or two nations or one or two generations would have paid the price. Jesus’ failure would have meant hell for all of us. But Jesus didn’t fail. His third-day resurrection from the dead says that his work has been successfully completed. He is the Man who saved the world.
He is the King who conquered the unholy trinity of Satan, sin and death. He makes you an heir of his kingdom.
He is the King who was crowned with thorns, robed in scarlet and given a reed as a scepter. That humility was his greatest glory. He has his angels in heaven waiting to place a crown on your head, a white robe over your body and a palm branch into your hand.
He is the King who received shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David” on Sunday. He received shouts of “Crucify him” on Friday. Through faith in him, he has reserved a place around his throne where you can shout “Hosannas” for eternity.
“Hoshianna! Save us now!” Yes, that’s what our King Jesus —Yeshua —rides into Jerusalem to do. Yes, that’s what the cross assures us he did do. Yes, that’s what the empty Easter tomb guarantees he will also come back to do. Yeshua Hoshianna. Amen.