“Sing Hosanna to Our King!”

(Mark 11:1-10 – Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018)

Mark 11:1-10 – Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:

At certain times of the year, parades are held honoring the meaning of a holiday. Sometimes championship sports teams are honored with parades in their hometowns. In times of war, returning soldiers have been honored with parades.

In our text we see a kind of parade. Crowds line the road, honoring a special Person. Others march before and behind Him. There is music in the air. Palm branches are waving with cheers. How exciting it would have been to be in that crowd at Jerusalem, honoring the arrival of Jesus.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt of a donkey, the people sang an ancient song: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Let us join the triumphant procession and Sing Hosanna to Our King!” as we see 1) Who He is, 2) How He comes to us, and 3) How we are to welcome Him.

1) Who He is

As the people sang “Hosanna” to Jesus, they were singing a song of celebration as they considered who He was – a heaven-sent King, come to fulfill God’s promise of salvation.

“Hosanna” is a Hebrew word that means, “Save now!” In Psalm 118:25-26 the expression is used this way: Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.”

The words of psalm 118 were meaningful to those who greeted Jesus. This messianic psalm had been sung for centuries, as part of the liturgy during the Passover festival. They describe how the Messiah-King won a great victory with the Lord’s help. His life had been under great threat. He had been in distress (vs. 5), surrounded by enemies (vs. 11), pushed violently and about to fall (vs. 13). Yet he said: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD” (vs. 17). His hope of rescue was not in the strength of man, the size of his army, or alliances with earthly princes (vs. 8-9). Rather, He destroyed his enemies “in the name of the Lord” (vs. 11-12). At the end of Psalm 118, the king speaks of coming to the temple to praise God for the victory. The people greet their victorious king at the house of the Lord with the words of our text: “[Hosanna]…. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” (vs. 25-26).

It is easy to see why the people of Israel sang these words year after year, as they celebrated the Passover. The Passover festival was annual remembrance of how the Lord had saved His people from enemies who had been too powerful for them when they were enslaved in Egypt. By the blood of the Passover lamb painted on their doors, the Lord had distinguished them from their enemies and saved them. To Jesus’ day, during the Passover the people sang that familiar song, expressing hope in the Lord’s victory over their enemies as they awaited their heaven-sent Messiah and King: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'”

In our text, the people also greet Jesus with the words: Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord!” They remembered how the Lord had promised King David that one of his descendants would come to rule an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-13). They remembered how David had relied on the Lord to save him from powerful enemies. David knew he did not need bigger muscles and worldly weapons. He only needed the Lord’s strength to win. And God did give David the victory over enemies on every side. In fact, under David’s rule, Israel reached its peak of power and glory.

“Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ “ The words the people sang as Jesus rode into Jerusalem were rich in meaning. They had seen His powerful miracles. He seemed to be the long-awaited Messiah-King, who would save God’s people from enemies on every side – especially the Romans who now ruled and oppressed them. As Jesus entered the royal city, they hailed Him as a heroic David-like king, through whom victory was surely coming to Israel “in the name of the Lord.”

2) How He comes to us

We join in their words of praise as we sing “Hosanna in the highest!” to our King. Yet, we sing it rightly as we see how He comes to us – full of humility and self-sacrificing love.

As the Son of God, Jesus held all power over the universe. He could have conquered the Roman armies, and all worldly opposition, right then and there. Yet, heaven’s King did not ride into the royal city on a war horse. He came in fulfillment of the Prophet Zechariah’s words: “just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). He did not come to bring a worldly kingdom, but a spiritual and eternal Kingdom. He came in humility with self-sacrificing love to save sinners.

Little did those Passover celebrants understand that heaven’s King had come to the royal city to be sacrificed as their Passover Lamb. By Friday of that week, Jesus would hang on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Indeed, the victory He won would not be based on the strength of armies, or alliances with earthly princes. Jesus would win the battle “in the name of the Lord,” according to God’s plan. By His sacrifice on the cross, He would save His people from spiritual enemies too powerful for them – sin, death, and Satan.

For Jesus, Palm Sunday must have been a bittersweet occasion. He saw the palm branches being waved and laid in His path to honor Him. He heard the people shouting “Hosanna!” and celebrating the fulfillment of God’s promises. He heard all the right words in their song of faith. Yet, He knew what was coming in a few days. He could see the crowds shouting louder and louder: “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:14) He could see the mockers surrounding Him on every side, even as He suffered and died for their sins.

Yes it was a bittersweet parade, as Jesus entered Jerusalem to songs of Israel’s deliverance.  He rode on in sorrow for the pitiful state of sinners who did not understand His great love for them as their Savior. As He rode on “in lowly pomp to die,” He could see enemies who were too proud to join their hearts and voices in the song of faith. Yet He loved them from His heart, even as they gnashed their teeth and plotted to kill Him.

What amazing humility and love heaven’s King showed as He came to us! Our Epistle lesson tells us: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God” yet “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Is this the attitude Jesus finds in us, as we sing “Hosanna” to Him? Or does it grieve Him to hear our song of faith mixed with sinful attitudes? He sees our humility as we confess our sins here in His house. He sees our joy as we sing of His gracious forgiveness and salvation from our spiritual enemies.

Then He sees the crowd disperse. He sees us on Monday, arguing and complaining. He sees us on Tuesday, holding a hateful grudge. He sees us on Wednesday, thinking filthy thoughts. He sees us on Thursday, talking behind someone’s back. Our sinful attitudes grieve the Lord.

What does our Palm Sunday parade mean if we sing “Hosanna!” to the King in His house, but then go out into the world with a different song? We may ask what words would have been on our lips that Friday, if we had been in the crowd at Jesus’ trial, and the question was asked: “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:12).

Too often we have paraded Jesus, making Him out to be the convenient king we want Him to be. But when it comes down to following Him in humility and love, we have thrown off His rule. By our sins of pride, lovelessness, and unfaithfulness, we have cried out: Crucify Him!”

When we see what failing sinners we are, then how meaningful it is to sing to our King: “Hosanna: Lord save us!” When our souls are in distress over our sin, and we are about to fall in defeat to Satan, we confess that our battle is against enemies too strong for us. Our help is not in human strength but in the name of the Lord – who for our salvation “endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

3) How we are to welcome Him

As we consider who Jesus is, and how He came so humbly and lovingly to save us, then we can rightly see how we are to welcome Him. Since Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our forgiveness and eternal life, we can join in that ancient song of praise in Psalm 118.

That ancient Passover hymn concludes with the people gathered at the temple to praise the Lord for His salvation: “Hosanna…. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD” (Psalm 118:25, 26, 29).

That is the Palm Sunday spirit. We join the festive parade to welcome our King. We gather at the house of the Lord to praise to our Savior for His salvation! Our song says: “Thank You Jesus for going to the cross to die for my pride, my lovelessness, and my unfaithfulness. Thank You for saving me from sin’s condemnation, Satan’s power, and hell’s gates. Since You defeated my enemies: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD” (Psalm 118:17).

That Palm Sunday long ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem in humble form on a colt of a donkey. Today, He comes to us in the humble form of preaching and His Word. He comes to us in the humble form of “the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26) in Baptism. That Passover long ago, He presented Himself as the Lamb to be sacrificed for the world’s sins. Today, He presents Himself as the Lamb whose blood now saves us from sin and death. That is why in our communion liturgy we welcome Him in the Sanctus with that ancient song: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, p. 52). We celebrate His real presence in faith, praying: “My dear Savior, You come to give me Your body and blood, as the seal of Your forgiveness and salvation. Strengthen my faith and lead me to live a holy life that honors You.”

As we welcome our Savior and King in our midst today, let us join that hymn of praise:

“Hosanna in the highest!”

That ancient song we sing,

For Christ is our Redeemer,

The Lord of heav’n our King.

O may we ever praise Him

With heart and life and voice,

And in His blissful presence Eternally rejoice!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.