“Hosanna!” (John 12:11-19)

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion
March 28, 2021

“Hosanna!” (John 12:11-19)

Today is Palm Sunday, and if there is a “word of the day” for this day, it’s “Hosanna!” How often do we see that word show up in our service today! We started the service by saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Then we heard the Gospel reading, where the crowd cries out, “Hosanna!” As we processed in, we sang the refrain six times, “To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.” And we concluded the procession by saying, “Hosanna in the highest.” So before we even sat down, we heard or said or sang “hosanna,” nine times! And when we get done singing “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” and “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty,” you can add four more “hosannas” to the list, for a total of thirteen. Truly the word of the day for Palm Sunday is “Hosanna!”

Now what is the meaning of this word, as we have used it and heard it being used? When the crowd at Jerusalem cried, “Hosanna!” and when we today sing, “Hosanna!” the word is being used as an acclamation, an ascription of praise. We are welcoming and praising Jesus as the great King. When the crowd shouted, “Hosanna!” they added, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And in our “hosanna hymns” today, we acclaim Jesus with lines like, “All glory, laud, and honor to you, Redeemer, King,” and “For Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heav’n our King.” To say “Hosanna!” then is something like saying, “Hail the conquering hero!” or “Hail to our coming King!” Clearly “Hosanna!” is being used as an acclamation, an ascription of praise.

But that’s not exactly what the word means, literally, if you translate it from the Hebrew. You see, there’s one “hosanna” that we missed, and we didn’t even notice it. It was back in Psalm 118, verse 25, where it says, “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” But you say, “That doesn’t use the word, ‘hosanna.’” Well, yes it does, if you say it in the original Hebrew. The word, “hosanna,” or, as it’s pronounced, “hoshi’ah na,” literally means, and is translated there as, “Save us, we pray!” “Save now, deliver now, we pray you, we beseech you!” That’s what “hoshi’ah na” actually means. Originally “Hosanna!” was a prayer to the Lord for salvation, a plea for deliverance.

The crowd at Jerusalem, then, uses that plea for deliverance as a shout of acclamation. The prayer for salvation becomes an ascription of praise. They are praising Jesus precisely because they believe he is coming to save them, to deliver them. They are acclaiming him as the coming Messiah, sent by God to be the new and great king from the line of David, to deliver Israel from all her foes.

Now they’re right and they’re wrong at the same time. They’re right, in that Jesus is indeed the great Messiah, the deliverer sent by God to save his people. Only it will be a salvation and deliverance much bigger than they realize. And it will happen, it will come about, in a way much stranger than they expect.

Their hosannas sell Jesus a little short. He is much more than just a new national king, who will restore Israel to her glory days–peace and prosperity, and get the Romans out of town. Jesus has bigger fish to fry than that.

But, hey, are we any better? We’d be happy with a religion that validates us as we are, affirms us, makes us comfortable, makes us feel good about ourselves. We would gladly welcome a king who could boost our economy, lower our gas prices, and put an end to the virus and the face masks. That kind of a king would get lots of hosannas and look real good in the opinion polls.

But Jesus comes with a bigger and better salvation than that. He’s going to deal with a bigger problem, the underlying problem that produces all the other problems–the ones we see and the ones we don’t see or realize or admit. And that big problem is our sin. Oh, not just the sins of those other people, the bad people, the immoral people, the people we look down upon. But our own sins, the sins of us good and respectable people, God’s people, whether we’re talking temple-going Israelites or church-going Lutherans. Our sins–that’s what we need a deliverer for, a Savior. “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” “Hoshi’ah na!”

And here’s where Jesus fits the bill. In fact, his very name means, “Savior.” Remember what the angel had said: “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The name “Jesus” in Hebrew is “Yehoshu’a,” and it comes from the same root as our word of the day, “hoshi’ah na.” Jesus is “Yehoshu’a,” literally, “The Lord saves.” He is the answer to our prayer, “Save us, we pray, O Lord!”

That’s why Jesus rides into Jerusalem, to do just that. But how he does it–there is the great surprise. If the word of the day on Palm Sunday is “Hosanna!” the word of the day on Friday will be “Crucify!” Another day, another crowd, a quite different mood and a quite different reception. Instead of an enthusiastic “Hosanna to the Son of David,” there will be a mocking “Hail, King of the Jews!” Instead of palm branches, a crown of thorns and a wooden cross. No longer is the prayer and the praise, “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” “Hosanna!” On Friday it will be mockery and insult: “Save yourself, and come down from the cross!” “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”

No, he cannot save himself. Because that is how, ironically, he will save others. That is how he saves you and me. Jesus is our Savior, our Yehoshu’a, precisely by not saving himself from this death he most assuredly does not deserve. Jesus saves us from our sins by dying for them, in our place. This is the bigger and better salvation that he brings. We needed a Savior to deliver us from ourselves, to deliver us from the death and judgment we earned by our sins against God. God sends that deliverer, his only Son come from heaven, the only one who can do the job, the only one whose sinless life and holy blood are sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world.

That is the strange way, the surprising way, that our conquering hero has conquered death for us. By his all-atoning death, Christ Jesus has won for us forgiveness for all our sins, and, with that forgiveness, life that comes out of the tomb–next Sunday at Easter, when he comes out of his own tomb, and at the Last Day, when he comes again and empties out our tombs and raises us up to life everlasting. So don’t sell Jesus short! His salvation is bigger than we can possibly imagine! Our hosannas now are just not big enough! But we’ll have a whole eternity to sing them to their fullest!

That reminds me, there’s one set of hosannas we haven’t mentioned yet. And that’s the hosannas we will sing in the Sanctus in just a few minutes: “Hosanna! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” We will sing those hosannas right as Jesus rides into this temple today, to give us his body and blood in the Sacrament. Again, he comes in humble, lowly fashion. But as of old he comes now having salvation to bestow. In the Blessed Sacrament, our blessed Lord gifts us with the sign and seal of salvation in his body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

“Hosanna!” “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” The Lord does exactly that, in this humble king riding into Jerusalem and coming to us now in this service. If “Hosanna!” is the word of the day for Palm Sunday, then so is “Jesus.” “Yehoshu’a” is God’s answer to our “Hoshi’ah na!” And so our prayer for salvation becomes also our song of praise: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Published in: on March 27, 2021 at 9:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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