SCRIPTURE READING: Mark 11:1-11; 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, “Hosanna!”
“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!” “Rescue us!” The cry of Hosanna! is a Hebrew word (hoshi`ah-na) that had become a greeting or shout of praise but that 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 the people carry are symbolic of a victorious ruler.
“Hosanna” has the sense of immediacy, and so it would be correct to this word as “Please save us, and do it now!”
When Jesus rode in his upside-down Kingdom-way on a donkey (not a stallion) into Jerusalem, there was desperation in the air. These Jewish citizens of Jerusalem were under the heavy yoke of the Roman Empire. They had heard about Jesus. The rumor was that he claimed to be a king. Even the Messiah. So when word got out that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, he was greeted as a king would be greeted.
As shouts of “Blessed is the King of Israel!” are heard, clearly the people see in Jesus the answer to their nationalistic, messianic hopes. Earlier a crowd had wanted to make Jesus king (6:15), and now this crowd is recognizing him as king in the city of the great King. Here is the great dream of a Davidic ruler who would come and liberate Israel, establishing peace and subduing the Gentiles.
The way Jesus entered Jerusalem was a deliberate, prophetic “Zechariah 9:9 act” on his part. Zech. 9:9 reads: Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt. Jesus comes into Jerusalem in a kingly way, and the people respond in a kingly fashion. The imagery is regal and even messianic, though it is a humble Messiah who makes the ride. As the people spread their garments (NIV: their cloaks) on the road, a “red carpet” of sorts is produced.
He was there to rescue them. The people were about to get “hosanna-ed,” “rescued.” But it wasn’t going to look like they thought it should. Jesus is a different kind of King. He’s going to “Hosanna” the world by dying on a cross. N.T. Wright writes: “The meaning Jesus attaches to this “triumphal entry” is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today.”
People turn to God when there’s something they want very badly. That’s like deciding to use a telephone when you desperately need an ambulance to come and help you. Church attendance – generally – was up, briefly, after “9-1-1.” Suddenly everyone wanted to ask the big, hard questions.
Here, in our Palm Sunday story taking place just outside Jerusalem, suddenly everyone wants Jesus to ride into the city and be the kind of king they want him 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, people who are sick and need a doctor. Yet he’s not coming to be all things to all people. He’s not riding into Jerusalem to conform to the expectations of the crowds of people. He is going to answer in his own way.
The people wanted a prophet. This prophet, Jesus, is going to tell the people that 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. This person Jesus is going to do that, but in a far, far deeper way than they were thinking.
Jesus is going beneath surface evil and in to 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 really cry out “Hosanna,” Jesus is going to “hosanna” you more thoroughly than you imagine, maybe more deeply than you wanted. The Hosanna-ing Jesus brings is not just a band-aide. This story of Jesus entering Jerusalem is “an object lesson in the mismatch between our expectations and God’s answer.” (NTW, Matt, 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, then you have been Hosanna-ed. You called, He answered, and He came to your rescue. Think of how God, in Christ, has been your Rescuer. Make a list of some God-redemptive things in your life.
2. Christ has not ceased to love us as Redeemer and Rescuer. If there is an area in your life you now need rescue and deliverance from, identify it, and cry out “Hosanna, Lord!”