As we enter begin this Passion (Holy) Week focusing on life, death and resurrection of Jesus, our Savior and Lord, I trust your meditations and reflections will lead to that of thanks, gratitude and worship for what Christ did. Although we remember this historical event as occurring in the past, we can never only approach it as a past event, since we live in the present tense on the basis of the implications of what Christ did.
A right understanding of the gospel requires us to say, “what has Jesus done!” not “what would Jesus do?,” since the right understanding entails a done, i.e., “it is finished” (Jn. 19:30), not a do. If it is a do, then we are still in our sins. Thanks be to God it is done, which means we can be saved, which makes it good news! Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience and died a sinless death of submission. This he did to display his nature and uphold the justice and righteousness of God. He also did this for us and for our salvation.
This Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on his journey to the cross. In our morning gathering as the people of God, we read Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry (11:1-11). In the evening during our family devotions, we read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ riding on a donkey into Jerusalem (21:1-11).
In this historical account, we read the crowd picked up a liturgical expression from Psalm 118:26, which was also a prophecy. Through their recollection and exclamation of these words, they were also playing an important role in redemptive history as part of the fulfillment of this prophecy. The psalmist writes (vv. 25-29),
Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalms 113-118 are referred to as the Hallel Psalms. This title is fitting for two reasons. First, the command to praise recurs throughout these psalms. Second, they became part of the Jewish Passover liturgy, remembering and celebrating their deliverance from Egyptian slavery and freedom to worship and serve God: God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and blessing. Although we are getting slightly ahead of the events that occurred this final week, after celebrating the Passover meal, the disciples departed singing a hymn, which was most likely from these Hallel Psalms (Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26).
These psalms of praise were not only the hymns of Israel, they were the hymns of Jesus, Israel’s promised Messiah. Here are the accounts from each of the Gospels.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9; cf. 23:39)
And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)
As he was drawing near– already on the way down the Mount of Olives– the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38; cf. 13:35)
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)
The crowd exclaimed, “Hosanna,” a Hebrew expression meaning “save!” This term also became an expression of praise. Salvation results in praise! And the praise, the notion of blessed, is centered and focused on the one who comes in the name of the Lord – Jesus Christ.
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, noted above, he includes further interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees (19:37-40):
As he was drawing near– already on the way down the Mount of Olives– the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
As we read, Luke records that the Pharisees, the religious leaders, were incensed to see and hear the disciples use their Old Testament Scriptures in reference to Jesus. Jesus’ response indicates they not only misunderstood their own Scriptures, they also missed him. This is why when they asked him to silence his disciples, he responded with the statement that even if they are silenced, then even the stones will cry out. What will they cry out? Their cry will be twofold. It consists of praise of the Messiah, the one who will redeem creation that now groans (Rom. 8:19-23), and that cry will also render a verdict against those who attempted to silence the confession and worship of the one coming in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Lest we forget, as this week unfolded, the crowd that so exuberantly celebrated and worshiped Jesus by waving palm branches and placing their cloaks on the road before him, was also fickle. As quickly as they were to place a kingly crown on Jesus’ head, in a few short days they were crying for his death, desiring to place a crown of thorns on his brow. As those who would kiss him out of love and adoration, in a short while Judas would betray him with a kiss of deceit (Matt. 26:48-49; Mk. 14:43-45; Lk. 22:47-48). A kiss represents friendship, love and devotion, not deceit and betrayal. Even in the midst of this betrayal and what the kiss represents, Jesus refers to Judas as “friend” (Matt. 26:50).
Jesus’ death absorbed and reversed that deceit and betrayal, and all other sins against God and others, ultimately absorbing God’s wrath in the great exchange: our sin placed on Christ, Christ’s righteousness imputed to us (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
So for all of us who live on this side of these events, and now experience the life given to us by faith in Jesus Christ, his death, burial and resurrection, that which is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1-5), who is now seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1), we remember and worship.
Hosanna to Christ is a hymn written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), which captures the truth of these biblical texts. I include it as an aid in your worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hosanna to the royal son
Of David’s ancient line!
His natures two, his person one,
Mysterious and divine.
The root of David, here we find,
And offspring, are the same:
Eternity and time are joined
In our Immanuel’s name.
Blest he that comes to wretched man
With peaceful news from Heaven!
Hosannas, of the highest strain,
To Christ the Lord be given.
Let mortals ne’er refuse to take
The Hosanna on their tongues,
Lest rocks and stone should rise and break
Their silence into songs.