A brief reflection on the glory of Palm Sunday.

“Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”

It’s a familiar phrase, one we think of on Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people are praising Jesus, recognizing Him as the Messiah, come to deliver the people.

But what does “Hosanna” really mean? It has an interesting background.

Yes, it is used as a word of praise. But taken more literally from the Hebrew, derived from the Hebrew phrase yasha anna, which means “save, please,” or “save us now.” It is a cry to God for deliverance.

The word first appears in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew:

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!”

Matthew 21:9

At the time, the people of Israel were looking for the Messiah to come and deliver them. So it makes sense they were asking Jesus, who they recognized as King (the palm branches they were waving signified royalty), to “save us.”

What the people—and even the disciples—struggled to understand was that Jesus had not come to deliver them from Roman rule. Rather, He came deliver them (and us) from sin—to serve as a final, perfect sacrifice, once and for all.

Little did those in the crowd know—or at least truly understand—what was to come that very week. As Jesus told his disciples, quite plainly, on the way to the Holy City:

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

Matthew 20:18-19

He could hardly have been more direct, but even the disciples didn’t fully grasp what was to come. As CUW Pastor Steve Smith preached on Wednesday in Chapel, “Our hearing of God’s Word and God’s plan is so faulty and so selective, that we often only hear what we want to hear, of Jesus’ plan.”

So Palm Sunday can stir up a mix of emotions. Yes, it’s triumphant. Yes, Jesus is King. Yes, the people were jubilant. At the same time, they didn’t truly understand what was going to happen just five days later. Or, especially, in a week.

But it in that moment, on that day, hope was at its highest. Excitement reached a fever pitch. Jesus was praised, rightly so, as the triumphant Messiah King, come to save His people.

And it was glorious.

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