The crowd around Jesus rounded the shoulder of Olivet just after Bethany. Their chants and praises rose with their excitement as the city spilled into view. David’s Jerusalem – snow white stone, towering temple and palace parapets, thousands and thousands of pilgrim tents carpeted the hills, flat city rooftops bristled with guests, and on the breeze the voice of Israel – more than 2,000,000 people gathering, preparing, waiting. On the road ahead another crowd pointed and cheered, laughed and danced. Came with palms, cutting them down from the trees. They swirled cloaks to cover the pathway, waved their palms and laid them down too as they approached. Crowd met crowd. Eddies in a river of shouts and hands and pressing people. The colt strode on; Jesus rode as if it were his own – gentle, straight, sure. Some cried tears. Others smiled and cried songs. They cried, they prayed, they praised, the pilgrims’ songs from the Hallel – Psalms 113-118 – a bit of Jewish liturgy they would sing at festivals like Passover. Sometimes it was as they approached the city. Absolutely it happened when they milled toward their sacrifice moment later on in the temple. It would happen like this – Some would shout the first line and pilgrims and others would respond with the rest:
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
2 Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say: “His love endures forever.”
And so it would go…on through the psalm. They would praise the Messiah – “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” – and they would petition God’s salvation and bless his beloved name. Down to today’s familiar v.26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” and v.25 before it: “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success.” Literally they would cry, הוֹשִׁ֘יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א / “Hosanna!”.
That’s where it came from, what they sang on the roads to Jesus. How appropriate to sing it, “Save us and bless us!” especially as the Savior rides into Jerusalem the last time. And it is good and right, despite all we’ll see this week, that right now we join in these cries and sing out, “Hosanna! Save, please!” because Jesus is the mighty Lord.
Consider how you see it in the reportage of the thing. Mark takes the time to tell us: Jesus walks with his disciples and sends two on ahead to fetch a colt – He tells them just what they will find and where they will find it and what to say if someone asks as to their actions and intentions – And then they do find the colt just as described and they excuse just as Jesus asked and those nearby allow it just as he said they would – And then it’s ride on, ride on… We understand, of course, that the gospel writers are intent to say that Jesus fulfills prophecy about the Savior and his work. Just so Zechariah 9:9, “See, your king comes to you…gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” And Matthew says in his gospel that this event took place to fulfill that prophecy specifically. But do you ever wonder after it as you wander behind the donkey on Palm Sunday on the way into Jerusalem? You nudge the person next to you and sotto voce (cuz maybe Jesus’ll hear) you ask, “Hey…you ever wonder why Mark, Matthew, and Luke all spent time tellin’ us that Jesus told these guys where to find a donkey and what would happen? You know? Like we don’t know that he’s miraculous and stuff…miracles all over the place by now!”
But perhaps it’s just for that reason – we’ve seen lots of things with Jesus by now, miraculous and glorious things, but in the horrible things that are coming we might forget just who it is that does this salvation work. Perhaps three out of four gospel writers want us to mark it that Jesus operates on a higher plane. That it’s important to note, even in the minutiae of donkey procurement procedure, he knows all things and that he does all things just so. And, from the lesser to the greater? If he knows these things, then he certainly knows what unholy things are coming in this holy week.
And more than that… Did you know that, in Mark’s gospel, this is the first time that Jesus uses the title “Lord” for himself? He says to his disciples, “…you say, ‘The Lord has need of it…’” It’s as if he was making certain they heard that he was going to own this moment. That it belonged to him. That to ride into Jerusalem to Savior-praises was totally good and right because is the King, he is the mighty Lord.
So that you and I might think…
- If yours is the temptation in this week to watch Jesus from afar and then to approach and say, “Now I’ve learned how to suffer…now I’ve learned how to atone for sins…now I can too…” Stay away – because he is the mighty one, the Lord, and this holy place is his holy space. He rides to be enthroned as God’s mighty king – crowned with thorns and crucified – so that in his humiliating death for sins God would exalt him to the highest place. By divine and righteous way he works so that we can cry out that “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” and not yours or mine. And more…
- If yours is the temptation of identification: that you do not think of sin but lightly, but you know it’s evil is great…; if yours is the experience of being mired in sin and sinking in it and stinking with it…; of being swarmed and surrounded so that you can only whimper and wait as you fall again and again…; if you might forget that someone has been tailor-made to handle these… Then watch this king ride. Rightly he holds high his head – the true King of Israel in whose name God plans to cut off every enemy sin of yours and to crush them like dry, dead twigs. So that, with the Lord as your strength and your song you cut those sins off with confidence day in and day out for they have been defeated by someone mightier than you.
It is good and right to give our hosannas right along with that crowd. Cry out, “Save, please!” for God has here supplied us with the mighty Lord who has the ability to conquer our every sin, to answer our every prayer, to finish God’s saving work for our blessing. For he is God’s blessed Messiah, the very one God has promised for this work. With all the might of heaven’s hosts he could have come – but they just broke in for song when he was born to this earth. He could have ridden a fiery chariot with heavenly horse into Jerusalem – but later he’ll only remind his disciples that angel armies wait beyond the veil while he goes off in chains… He could have come down from his cross and crushed those who laughed – but he will only cry out as he is crushed with our sin… His kingly approach is one of humility and peace. He comes in the Lord’s name: representing the Lord’s work and according to the Lord’s plan. As we said last week, not to do his own will, but ever only to glorify his Father. Which means that Jesus so mighty brings God’s blessing with himself. Truly “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Blessed and bringing blessing to you and me is this Jesus who is the long-promised King of the line of King David – he rules over all things for our good. He is the “King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right…” justice as sin is punished in himself, rightness given to you and me. He is the “Prince of Peace” who has earned the right to the title and proclaims with power that status on us – at peace with God.
Which wildly changes things. Do you grasp it? Take a look at the bulletin cover this morning. This week, we hope you’ll enjoy various colorful representations of our Lord’s Holy Week. On ours this morning, you know what I love? That little boy, odd red button on his back… Who, maybe was little Moshe… Who’d heard that Jesus was coming. It’d been whispered in the streets. And he needed to see. Then a friend had broken into his father’s work space, breathless; that he was on the road, on his way, almost here. Moshe had shared a look with his father and broke for the sunlit street. Into the crowd, pressed and hot and loud – but he loved the noise; life before Jesus had just been quiet pain. Squeezing through the small spaces, trying to get a glimpse he recalled it all… A demon had owned him: paralyzed his tongue and shut out the world’s sounds. Worse, it had thrown him to his death countless times – in the water, toward the fire; thrashed him about; destroyed his peace; ruined their family. He recalled the first time he’d caught sight of blessed Jesus. His father had been gripping his shaking frame as his head lolled back, eyes rolling wildly. He hadn’t heard his father’s cry (hadn’t heard anything ever), “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” He couldn’t forget the first thing he’d ever heard, though. Blessed Jesus’ voice, his mighty word, like a lord with power: “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And it hadn’t…not ever… He was lost in it again, for the thousandth time, until just then someone bumped him, right through the crowd with a knee, into the street. And little Moshe turned to see his Lord not three feet away. And when he raised his arms and opened his mouth, his blessed little voice cried, “Hosanna!” It wasn’t supplication. It wasn’t a prayer. He didn’t need anything at all. Jesus had already saved him. Little Moshe cried, “Hosanna!” because it voiced just what his life had become: so blessed that every moment was praise.
Perhaps there was never a little Moshe. Perhaps the “boy” of Mark 9 was more a man by then. But the painting gives you a perfect picture of what happens in that word, “Hosanna!” It began long ago as a prayer of supplication to God: “Please bring salvation!” But in the mouths of those who knew God’s saving work, it simply became a word of praise – a reflection on how mighty the Lord is and how blessed it is to be his people.
As we watch our Savior ride into Jerusalem, let’s join the crowds and shout because it’s both for you and me. Let’s bring to our Lord our pleas for his mighty work, to crush the guilt our sins, and with power to save us. And, knowing that he has, seeing it again, let’s do everything in his blessed name, thanking God for what we have heard and seen, and lifting up joyous praises to the highest heavens…everything, everyday, in every way a loud, “Hosanna!”