21 When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. 2 He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away. 4 Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, 5 Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.” 6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.
8 Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11, Common English Bible).
After years of wandering, Clint Dennis had come to the point in his life when he knew he had been missing something important. He decided he would give church a try. As he entered the church for the first time he noticed people putting on long robes, tying ropes around their waists, and a stranger told him. It was Palm Sunday and the church was re-enacting the crucifixion in costume. He would join others from the congregation and be part of the crowd that shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Hesitantly he agreed.
Then another stranger hurried up to him. “The man who was supposed to play one of the thieves on the cross didn’t show up,” he said. “Would you take this place?” Again he agreed and was shown to the cross where he would look on as Jesus died. Just then, there was something about Clint Dennis’ manner caught a member’s eye. He turned to Clint and asked, “Have you ever asked Jesus to forgive your sins?”
“No,” Clint said softly, “but that’s why I came here.”
There beneath a cross for an Easter pageant they prayed. There under that cross, Clint Dennis asked Jesus to be part of his life. What the church didn’t know then was that Cint had been in prison for ten years. He wasn’t just going to play a thief in the pageant, he really was a thief. Even after his release, he had gone on stealing cars and trucks until he realized he had been missing something from his life. Beneath the cross of Jesus, Clint Dennis found his Savior.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, a Savior was the object of the people’s desires. They wanted to see their savior. The gathered crowd wanted to see the Messiah and they thought they were looking at him in the man riding on the donkey. In truth, they were, but Jesus was not the Messiah for whom they searched.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, can you imagine Jesus’ face? What do you think was his facial expression? Can you imagine his emotions? Did they show on His face? Think about that for a minute. Here he comes riding into Jerusalem. The people are lining the streets. They cut leafy branches, palm branches and placed them on the road in front of him. Some removed their cloaks and put them down on the road. They showed him great respect with all their actions. They shouted hosanna to the king every step of the way. If this was you or me, we would probably feel really good about ourselves because of what was being said and what was being done in our honor. But Jesus knew what was coming next. He knew the cheers would turn to jeers in only a few days.
Amid these shouts of Hosanna, amid this experience of Jesus, there are some lessons for us today.
Amid shouts of Hosanna, there is courage. Jesus was fully aware of the kind of Messiah the Jews wanted and were expecting him to be. They wanted a conquering hero. They wanted someone like Judas Maccabees.
Judas Maccabees’ story may not be familiar to most of us but to the Israelites. It would have been fifth grade required reading for Hebrew children. They might have even found it on their version of the STAR test. It comes from a part of Scripture we Protestants don’t use too much. In fact, it isn’t even in most of our Bibles. It is a part of Scripture that falls between the Old and New Testaments, both literally, in our Bibles, and as the historical time period. It is of some importance to the Roman Catholic faith.
One can find the Judas Maccabees story in the book of 2 Maccabees and is very much a part of Hebrew history. Any Jew having learned even a small amount of Israelite history would have known about the story.
The story takes place in 175 B.C. Antiochus had gained control of the Temple. He wanted to stomp Judaism from the world and implement Greek ways. One of the first steps Antiochus took to attempt fulfilling his plan was to sacrifice a pig on the Temple’s altar to Yahweh. I doubt he could have done much of anything more insulting to the Israelites. Next, he turned the temple’s outer courts into a brothel. It shouldn’t take a great deal of imagination to think of how this would outrage the Israelites who prided themselves so much on living by the law and now the Temple was desecrated in such a way. Think of how we would feel if it were here in our church.
From within the Israelite population, a man rose up to stand against Antiochus. This man was Judas Maccabees. He recruited soldiers from among the Israelites to fight with him. He arrived in Jerusalem and defeated Antiochus. The temple was cleansed and Judas Maccabees was welcomed into Jerusalem a conquering hero. The people spread palm branches and their spread cloaks on the ground and as Maccabees rode into the city on his stallion there were shouts of Hosanna to the conquering hero.
That was what the Jews wanted to see from Jesus, a conquering hero. But, for all its similarity, there was one notable difference. Judas Maccabees came riding into Jerusalem on a stallion. Jesus came riding in on the colt of a donkey. Judas came riding in on an animal befitting of a conquering hero. Jesus came riding an animal symbolizing one who came in peace. It would seem, the Israelites were far too busy celebrating the coming Messiah to notice the difference.
It took great courage for Jesus to ride into the city, know what the crowds wanted from Him and knowing He couldn’t or at least he wouldn’t give them what they wanted. Jesus knew there needs better than they did. He knows our needs better than we. He would remain faithful to His mission. Amid shouts of Hosanna, there was courage.
Amid shouts of Hosanna, there was also a claim. All the Jews would have known the prophecies of Zechariah. In these prophecies, Zechariah said the Messiah would come riding into the city amid great celebration on the colt of a donkey. By entering the city the way he did, Jesus said to the crowds, “I am your Messiah.”
Yet He wasn’t the Messiah they wanted. We often try to make God into what we want instead of allowing God to be God. It might be a little like the young girl who one still night was laying in her bed. In the stillness of the night her normally so still and quiet pierced the night in a volume that could be heard not only around the world but on planets as far away as Saturn, “Daddy, I’m scared!”
Out of his groggy, fuzzy, half-asleep state, her father responds, “Honey, don’t be afraid, Daddy’s right across the hall.”
After a brief pause the little girl’s voice, knowing her father was awake now responded in a bit quieter tone, “Daddy, I’m still scared.” OK, I lied, she was just as loud. “Daddy, I’m still scared.”
Always quick with an insight, the father responded, “You don’t need to be afraid honey. God is with you. God loves you.”
This time the pause was longer… but the voice returns. “I don’t care about God Daddy, I want someone with skin on!”
It would seem that logic used by little children like that little girl is precisely the reason for Jesus’ coming. After thousands of years of being unsuccessful in being able to convince His people he really did love them, God understood the best way to demonstrate that love for us was to send, “Someone with skin on.” That, someone, was the Messiah and amid shouts of Hosanna Jesus staked his claim to the title.
Amid shouts of Hosanna, there was also great appeal. Here, in Jesus was what the Jews waited for, hoping for, wanting to happen, for centuries. And, here they greeted Him with great celebration. Unfortunately, shouts of Hosanna, in less than a week’s time started calling for Jesus’ death.
How could they go such a great mental distance in such a short period of time? Well, it isn’t all that hard for us to see when we look closely at our lesson. In the beginning, the crowd was shouting Hosanna to the Messiah. By the end of the lesson, Jesus was no longer considered savior or Messiah. In only a few short minutes he was a prophet. Prophets are great and all, but it is a long drop from Messiah to a prophet. If Jesus could move from Messiah and savior to prophet in only minutes, it becomes a bit easier to see how in less than a week they would call for his death.
It might have been something like what happened to Larry Bowa several years ago, more than three decades ago in Philadelphia. In the summer of 1979, my ship was in the shipyards there. One of the good things about being in the Navy and in Philadelphia, and there weren’t many good things about the experience, but one of the good things was, with a military ID card we could get into Phillies games for a dollar. I took advantage all summer long. If I didn’t have duty and the Phillies were in town I was at the ball game.
Anyway, Larry Bowa, at the time was the Phillies shortstop. At the beginning of the season, Bowa was hitting the cover off the ball and the Phillies’ fans were ready to elect him mayor. But by August, he was in a major slump. He couldn’t hit a foul ball. The fans wanted him anywhere but Philadelphia. The fans who once booed Santa Claus booed Larry Bowa every time he came to the plate. They demanded for him to be traded. The newspapers reported threats on his life. All over a kid’s game.
Please understand, I am in no way trying to say Larry Bowa is even a little like Jesus, of course, he isn’t, none of us are. I am saying, it is possible for we humans to understand and experience the same kind of emotions Jesus experienced. He rode in amid shouts of praise, amid shouts of Hosanna.
Amid shouts of Hosanna, the Israelites sang out “Hail to the Son of David.” That meant, “Hail to the King.” But, what was it they were really saying when they shouted “Hosanna?” In his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, the late British Bible scholar William Barclay points out that in its original meaning, the root word of the Hebrew word Hosanna meant save us. It is quite possible, Barclay says, that by this time in history the word might have developed a new meaning. But, isn’t it interesting that out of all the words they could choose from to shout praises to Jesus, they picked this one.
Hosanna, save us, save us. They wanted a conquering hero to come and save them so they shouted Hosanna, save us, save us. And that is just what he came to do. No, he didn’t save them the way they wanted or demanded. He didn’t save them by chasing the hated Romans out of the country. But, he did come to save them. Jesus came to make salvation available for everyone when he came riding into town on a donkey.
When Clint Dennis walked into church that morning amid the flurry of activity he knew he needed more in his life. He walked in and in his own way was saying Hosanna, save me, save me. And Jesus did just that for Clint.
When we shout out Hosanna, save us, save us, Jesus is here and with us. He will save us. It’s what he always did for those who shout Hosanna. He will do it today. We praise him amid shouts of Hosanna, save us. Lord Jesus, save us.