March 31, 2015 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!
It’s Holy Week.
There was a contest once, a long time ago. It was a contest between Jesus and the Devil. They had to write a bunch of sermons using Microsoft Word. Then, they had to create some detailed spreadsheets of Christians around the world and their contact information using Microsoft Excel. And then they were to each make a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation to persuade human beings to join their side of the religious debate. They had 8 hours to complete all these tasks. At the end of the time limit, as both were typing away on their computers, there was a divine flash of lightning, and the power went out. Satan went off, cursing a blue streak—but Jesus just sat at his workstation serenely, completely at peace. “How can you just sit there like you don’t care?” the Devil asked. “All that data we both worked on for 8 hours is gone, just like that!” Just then a voice from Heaven replied, “Satan, don’t you know? Jesus saves!”
Have you ever wondered, sitting in church on Palm Sunday, what the crowds were saying when they chanted “Hosanna!” as Jesus rode into town? Maybe you are like me and just kind of assumed it meant something like “Praise God!” But that’s not quite it.
This exclamation, “Hosanna!” comes from the Psalm 118, which is one of the hymns the Jews used to celebrate at Passover. It means “Save us! Save us now!” If you think back to the origins of the Passover, it makes sense. The Passover was the night that God’s destroying angel “passed over” the land of Egypt killing the firstborns in every household, except it “passed over” the houses with the blood of lambs on the doorposts—the doors of the Hebrew slaves’ homes. That night, Pharaoh released the slaves from their captivity and God led them out of slavery toward the Promised Land. God saved them from their enslavement.
Hundreds of years later, Israel was once again under enemy occupation. Now it was the Romans who held control over the Jewish people. As the Jews gathered from cities all over the world in Jerusalem to offer their festival sacrifices at the Temple, here comes a prophet riding into town. A man of God who has been witnessed healing the blind, sick and lame. Feeding large crowds from almost nothing, and proclaiming the Good News with a voice of authority. As he rides in, the people take up the ancient chant of revolution that worked against the Egyptians, “Hosanna! God save us now!”
Imagine Boston or Philadelphia in the spring of 1776. As the Redcoated English Army troops are stationed all over the colonies, into town parades General George Washington to cries of “Save us from the British King!” and “Revolution!”
Was this parade a peaceful assembly? Was Jesus throwing Tootsie Rolls and Dum-dum suckers from the back of his donkey? I don’t think so. Jesus may have been riding a humble donkey, but this was not the humblest of gatherings by his followers. They smelled change in the air, and to the leaders of the establishment—the Romans and King Herod and the chief priests—they smelled rebellion and chaos. You see, the thing you fear most when you are in power, is losing that power. And the leaders of Israel had good reason to fear. They had a good thing going with Rome at the time. In all of the Roman Empire, Israel was the only place and people who were still allowed to worship in their own way without interference from Rome—provided that the leaders would keep everyone else in check and at peace.
Peace is good, except when the price is so high. There was indeed a tension with Rome, and many in Israel were ready for some action. Now here comes a man that many are calling the Messiah, the successor to King David and a man that people are hoping will call them to arms and revolt against their oppressors. They are hoping for a Savior. Hosanna to the Son of David!
What I find fascinating is the word “Hosanna.” In Hebrew, its the same root “Yeshia” — as Jesus’ name “God saves.”
Yeshua in Hebrew, Jesus in Greek, Joshua in English—they are all the same: “God saves.” In a way, as Jesus entered into Jerusalem to the waving of palm branches and cloak-covered streets, they were chanting his name! “Yeshua! Hoshiana! Hosanna! Jesus!”
And we know that Jesus was the Messiah, he did indeed come to save them, and all humanity. But not from the oppression of Rome or any other earthly tyranny. He came to save us from our slavery, but not from the slavery of Egypt. Jesus saves us from enslavement to sin, our bondage to self-serving destruction. Jesus came to set us free from our guilt, sin and death. Not in battle and bloodshed, but by giving himself up and shedding his own blood on our behalf.
Holy Week begins with the Parade of Palms heading into Jerusalem today, but it will end with another parade at the end of the week, on Good Friday. On that day, Jesus will be followed out of the city, not on the back of a donkey, but with a cross burdening his own back. Instead of palms and cloaks and Hosannas, there will be rocks, spit and insults. And there on the hill called “The Skull” — Golgotha. Jesus will do what he came to earth for in the first place. He will save. Hosanna.
Heavenly Father, thank you for saving me from sin, death and the power of the Devil. Thank you for going to the cross and dying on my behalf. In Jesus’ name, Amen.