Originally published March 20, 2016
Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. It’s a festive scene. Passover week, one of the most significant holidays in the Jewish calendar. Jesus has been preaching throughout the region of Galilee. He has built up quite the following: teaching on the kingdom of heaven and performing miracles.
And here he enters the holy city, the crowds shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Palm branches had become a Jewish symbol of victory and the crowds bring these branches out as they chant. The processional they created was somewhat makeshift, but it had kingly overtones. They’re treating him like someone who was returning to Jerusalem after having conquered an enemy. Ironically, he was coming into Jerusalem to conquer sin.
Hosanna in the highest! They shouted. Probably saying it over and over again, “Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna in the highest!”
The word Hosanna in Aramaic essentially means “Save now!” It’s a plea.
In Jesus’ day, there were a lot of expectations as to how the Messiah would act. Some thought of him as a great king. In reality, he was a king. But not the king the people wanted. He didn’t come to conquer others from the outside, but to save souls from the inside. Others expected a great religious teacher. He was a great teacher, but he also challenged the religious teachers of his day and they hated him for it. While many prominent religious teachers had separated themselves from overtly sinful people, Jesus immersed himself with these groups. Others expected two Messiahs. The Essenes expected a Messiah who would usher in the end of the world. Jesus ushered in a New Covenant.
Hosanna in the highest!
Many of us today have part of Jesus that we like. Maybe we accept part of who he is.
I can be freely forgiven? Hosanna! Save me now. But then we reject any idea of knowing Jesus better or acknowledging the sin which made us need a savior.
Jesus talked about feeding the poor? Hosanna! Save me now, I’ll accept that Jesus. But then we treat things Jesus said with how we’re to interact with society as if that’s all the gospel is.
Jesus emphasized loving people? Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! But then we want to discount everything he said about sin.
Jesus talked about accepting people regardless of their past sins? Hosanna! But then we hear that he also said “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.”
Jesus said we could be with him? Hosanna! But then we reject his bride, the Church.
Today, as on that first Palm Sunday, we live in a world where people expect many different things related to the Christ. The crowd shouted Hosanna. They thought it was their Jesus.
“Hosanna!” on Sunday. “Crucify!” on Friday. Jesus came in perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament. He came in perfect righteousness and holiness. God on earth. But God on earth didn’t bend to the whim of what every person thought he should be. It is not the people who judge Jesus. We don’t pick and choose what to accept with Jesus. We don’t just hear that he forgives and ignore all the rest. We don’t like a loving Jesus and discount Jesus the moral teacher.
Jesus takes us as we are, and we must believe in him as he is. At the beginning of Holy Week, if you are someone who considers yourself a follower of Jesus, do you really believe his message and who he is?
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.
Sources: Carson, D. A. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. Print.