Sermon: The Hoshanna of Holy Week

Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent, a season where we join our steps with the Lord Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem. It is a season where we head the words of John the Baptist to ‘prepare the way of the LORD’ and join our stories with the truest and most significant story the world has ever known – the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will be continuing our journey through the gospel of Matthew, looking specifically at the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion – what he did, what he taught, and ultimately what he gave for us and for our salvation. This morning, we find ourselves in Matthew 21:1-11. Matthew 21:1-11. If you have a Bible with you this morning, feel free to go there with me. Matthew is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew 21:1-11. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what the LORD had spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,

See, your King comes to you,

gentle and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Then the disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

Hosanna in the highest!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated).

It is just a few days before the Passover and the people of God are streaming into Jerusalem. Hundreds of years earlier, God’s people had been slaves in Egypt. When Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God sent ten plagues to break the power of Pharaoh and set the people free. In the last plague, God promised to take the life of every first born son in all of Egypt, except for those who painted their doorposts with the blood of a lamb. The Israelites all did this and God passed over them, but still took the lives of the Egyptian firstborn. Every year afterward, God told them to celebrate this Passover as a feast of deliverance. Every year, hundreds of thousands approached Jerusalem to remember that the people of God were spared because of the blood of the lamb on their doorposts.

It was a time when people remembered God’s work in setting them free. Emotions ran high and Messianic expectation was in the air. God had promised another great deliverer, a great king from the line of David, a Messiah, would come and set the people free and reign forever. There were many different hopes for what this king would be like, but at the time of Jesus, most were hoping for a great military leader like old King David.

As the people walked into Jerusalem, they stepped past Roman soldiers with their swords and spears that had drunk up so much Jewish blood. Like Egypt long ago, again, the people of God found themselves struggling for breath under the oppressive boot of a powerful nation. Again, they were worked to the bone, while their livelihoods were stripped in taxes, their families murdered, while these pagans claimed lordship over God’s people.

So the people of God streamed into Jerusalem and began to wonder. Would now be the time for God’s promised king to come? Would now be the time where God would deliver them from the godless, oppressive Romans? Would now be the time where the Messiah would come and lead them to freedom?

Among the pilgrims heading to the Jerusalem was a man named Jesus. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and did miracles. He taught with power and grace. The people had begun to wonder if he was the one. A few miles outside Jerusalem, Jesus stops and sends two of his disciples ahead of him into the next town. At Jesus’ command, they commandeer a donkey and a colt, likely a colt that has never been ridden. They bring them to Jesus and place their cloaks upon their backs. Jesus mounts up and begins to ride into the city.

Without saying a word, Jesus confirms their hopes and defies their expectations. They have been longing for the promised King, the promised deliverer. By his actions, Jesus enters as, centuries earlier, God promised he would : Say to Daughter Zion, See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The pilgrims heading into Jerusalem understood and they placed their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches and placed them on the road. This is the first century equivalent of rolling out the red carpet. Crowds run ahead of him into the city while other crowds follow him, all of them shouting aloud:

Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

Hosanna in the highest!

The fanfare is something to imagine. But notice what they were saying. They shouted, in Hebrew, Hoshanna. In English, hosanna. In the church, we often treat ‘hosanna’ as if it is a word of praise or worship of God. However, it is much more than that. At its heart, Hoshanna is pray for deliverance. It means, ‘Lord, save us.’

Say, Hoshanna (Hoshanna). Lord, Save us.

As those people lined the streets, throwing their cloaks on the ground before Jesus, they cried out, Hoshanna. Lord, Save us. As much as it was praise, it was also a deep cry from the gut. A cry for everything wrong to finally be set right, for everything lost to finally be found, for everything broken to finally be made whole. Hoshanna.

This last week, we have seen images of a woman, ashes in the sign of the cross on her forehead, crying out as she wonders if her child has been killed in Wednesday’s shooting in Florida. So we cry out, Hoshanna. Lord, save us. Our bodies break down. We watch helpless as those who love most suffer and so, desperately, we cry, Hoshanna. We break and bruise even those things that matter most to us, so we cry out, Hoshanna.

Is Hoshanna your prayer, too? I have watched friends welcome their newborn child and say goodbye the same day. Hoshanna. I have watched classmates who I have walked alongside for years tell me, “I cannot call myself a Christian anymore.” Hoshanna. I have seen marriages fall apart for some and for others never begin. Hoshanna. I have seen tragedy strike so deep that it is hard to stay in the house anymore. Hoshanna.

Is Hoshanna your prayer, too? Lord, save us.

Holy week begins with Hoshanna. The shouts of those running ahead and trailing behind Jesus as he travelled to Jerusalem were deep cries for deliverance. They echoed the cries of the psalmist in Psalm 118: Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.

LORD, save us! Hoshanna!

The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem begins with the cry of every heart and, indeed, all of creation. Lord, save us! The people that day cried out for deliverance too. They had watched Roman generals slaughter their people by the tens of thousands, until the Kidron valley, where Jesus rode on that donkey, ran red with blood. They cried out as one uprising after another ended with more young men crucified lining the streets. They ached for heavy yoke of the Romans to be broken. They longed for the day when these foreign soldiers would no longer march across God’s land as if it was their own.

They cried out Hoshanna for a new Exodus. As passover approached they cried out for a new act of God’s deliverance, when the promised king would come and overthrow these terrible Romans and lead the people to freedom. Hoshanna, Lord, save us.

The Hoshanna of Holy Week was not a cry into the abyss. It was not shouting vainly against the cruel cosmos. It was a prayer to Jesus. They prayed, Hoshanna to the Son of David. They believe that they have finally seen the answer to their prayers. In Jesus, riding into Jerusalem like the promised king, they believe their centuries of prayers have finally been heard.

The good news of the gospel is that they were right. The cries of Hoshanna have been answered in Jesus Christ. Hoshanna, Lord, save us, is exactly what Jesus came to do. The new Exodus they had hoped for was coming true. The great act of God’s deliverance was upon them. Yet, it was not as they had expected.

Jesus both confirms our hopes and defies our expectations. The church’s normal title for this story is the ‘Triumphal Entry.’ Jesus enters like a king and receives the recognition and praise of the people. Jesus is King. He is the King God promised. While all of this is true, there is nothing triumphant about Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem. It is humble, or, as Zechariah said, gentle and riding on a donkey. Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem is proclaiming him as King, but not through a display of power, but humility.

Contrast Jesus’ arrival with one about a hundred fifty years earlier. After suffering under the oppression of the pagan Seleucid emperor, Antiochus IV, the people of Isarael had enough. Antiochus had desecrated the temple and, in response, Judah Maccabee and others revolted. They led an uprising that eventually created an independent Jewish state. When Judah Macabbee came to Jerusalem, he was riding on a war horse, while the people cut palm branches, the symbol of the revolution. The conquering hero comes riding a big horse, but Jesus a lowly donkey. But many of the people were hoping for another Judah Macabbee, another revolutionary who would get things done, set things right, and lead Israel back to greatness.

But here Jesus comes, riding on a donkey. Without a word, he proclaims that his kingship is very different from the kings of this world. All those Hoshannas will be answered, but not in the way of the Macabbees, the Herods, or the Caesars.

The people wanted a king. They wanted one strong enough to set them free. They wanted a mighty general, a warrior king like David. Yet, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, he reveals that it is forgiveness that will change the world.

What will change the world? What will finally answer all our Hoshannas? Might or Meekness? Force or Forgiveness? Coercion or the Cross?

The center of this passage is the fulfillment of the prophesy of Zechariah: Say to Daughter Zion, See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey. Jesus is the king who comes to the people, comes to those crying out for deliverance. But he comes in humility, not as a conqueror. Jesus comes not to drive out the Romans, not to fix the world by force, but to save it by his sacrifice. Jesus would enter Jerusalem, not to conquer, but to lay down his life on the cross to forgive our sins.

That’s it? He goes and dies. No glorious revolution. No grand utopian project. Just a cross and an empty tomb. In a world of school shootings, hurricanes, and cancer, the audacious claim of the gospel is that this humble king Jesus, through his death and resurrection to life, has, in fact, changed the world. The audacious claim is that forgiveness really is more powerful than any army or empire, that the cross truly is the answer to all our Hoshannas. History is filled with people who sought the way of the war horse instead of the humble path of the donkey. It is filled with people who sought to save the world with the sword, instead of trusting the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ.

What will change the world? What will finally answer all our Hoshannas? Might or Meekness? Force or Forgiveness? Coercion or the Cross?

See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

Hosanna in the highest!

Forgiveness changes the world. The gospel of Jesus Christ has transformed the world far more than any army or any empire. It is grace that overturned the kingdoms of sin, death, and the devil. It is also grace that overturned the kingdom of this world.

There was no successful Jewish uprising against the Roman Empire. The failed one in 67AD led to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the Bar Kochba revolt in the 100s broke the spirit of the Jewish people. Yet, Rome was overcome. Less than a week after Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was crucified and died on a hill outside the city. Three days later, he rose to life. Those who had followed him believed in him and received the power of the Holy Spirit. This new community chose to walk in the way of Jesus, to follow the humble path of forgiveness. They were rejected by many, some were killed. But there were others who saw and believed in Jesus, who found in his forgiving death the answer to all their Hoshannas. Slowly, Rome began to transform. Never completely, but the pagan Rome of Jesus’ day was undone by the community that followed Jesus and the forgiveness he proclaimed. Until one day, even the caesar bowed his knee to Jesus.

Holy Week begins with Hoshanna. It begins with the cry for salvation. A cry that comes out of all the darkness and pain we experience in our world. It is a cry that is answered in Jesus. A cry answered on the cross. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey proclaiming a different way that the power and might of this world, and it is this humble way of Jesus that changes everything.

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