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“Hosanna!”

“Hosanna!”

This Palm Sunday, we’ll spend time reading Mark 11:1-11 – an account of Jesus’s “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. One of the more well-known features of that passage is the cry of “Hosanna!” from those welcoming Jesus into town (Mark 11:9-10).

Much ink has been spilled writing about what the crowds meant when they used that word; we’ll talk about that some in this week’s sermon. It’s generally agreed that the crowds had very specific expectations of Jesus’s time in Jerusalem; expectations that were mostly misguided.

But I’d like to dedicate some time to the passage being quoted when the crowds shout “Hosanna!”. That word comes from Psalm 118:25, meaning “grant salvation” – or as the ESV translates it: “Save us”. To shout the word “Hosanna” is to make a very specific request of God; it is a way of asking God to act on an oppressed person or group’s behalf.

That’s what Psalm 118 is all about. The author recounts his own personal experience of God “granting salvation” from his enemies in the past (VS. 10-13). He repeatedly reminds and encourages others that the LORD’s “steadfast love endures forever” (VS. 1-4; 29). In other words, the author wants all to know that the character of God is stable and unfailing; God can be counted on and trusted in. It’s no wonder, then, that this psalm is often read during the Jewish celebration of Passover, commemorating God’s freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt generations earlier. The Exodus is the single greatest Old Testament example of God “granting salvation” to His people.

But as believers in Jesus, Christians read Psalm 118 in a new way. While this passage is certainly appropriate for looking back on the Exodus, it’s also good for far more than that. This passage looks ahead to Jesus. When we read VS. 19-23, we can’t help but think of Jesus’s “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. Jesus quotes VS. 22 in reference to himself in the “Parable of the Tenants” (Mark 12:1-12). And along with the crowds lining the roads in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago, we quote VS. 25-26 as we look at Jesus.

We look at Jesus, knowing that God has indeed “granted salvation” to us. We know that “blessed is he” who entered that city to a royal welcome – even though he would leave that city on a criminal’s death march. This salvation wouldn’t come about the way the crowd (and even Jesus’s own disciples!) likely expected. It wouldn’t come through Jesus exercising power and authority on man’s terms; it wouldn’t come through worldly political or military force. But as Psalm 118 also tells us, it’s foolish to look to men or princes for salvation anyway (VS. 8-9).

This Palm Sunday, we shout “Hosanna”, knowing that God has “granted salvation” to us through Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross – and confirmed it through Jesus’s victorious resurrection from the grave. We “give thanks to the LORD”, not only because he “granted salvation” to Israel long ago, and not just so that he may “grant salvation” to us from our latest challenge or hardship – but because he has “granted salvation” from sin to all who look to Jesus as the cornerstone of our faith.

The Power of Words

The Power of Words

In Matthew 8, we see several instances of Jesus speaking, and his words having great impact.¬†Matthew 8 comes directly on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus’s words leave people in awe:

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)

This theme continues throughout Chapter 8, as Jesus displays astonishing power and authority through the words he speaks. For example:

In Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus cleanses a leper. Jesus reaches out and touches the man; a gesture which would make any other practicing Jew “unclean” by Old Testament standards. But Jesus is different. When Jesus touches unclean people, their status changes; not Jesus’s status. Jesus remains clean; the leper is made clean. But Jesus doesn’t just touch the man; he also speaks.

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” (Matthew 8:3A)

In Matthew 8:5-13, a centurion approaches Jesus, begging that his servant be healed. The centurion must have been desperate; he was likely affluent in his community, and thus unlikely to turn to a traveling Jewish religious teacher for assistance. Jesus agrees to visit the servant at the centurion’s home, but the centurion has a better idea:

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8B)

The centurion knows what it’s like to have authority. When a man in his position speaks, things get done. This Gentile centurion recognizes the authority and power in Jesus’s words; and in fact, he’s so confident in the power of Jesus’s words that he bets his servant’s fate on it. Sure enough, Jesus heals the servant by speaking from a distance, and the centurion is commended for his faith.

In Matthew 8:14-17, we read that Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, along with many who are sick. But we also see an easily overlooked detail about Jesus’s method of casting evil spirits out of those oppressed by demons. How does he do it? “With a word” (Matthew 8:16).

We see similar examples in Matthew 8:23-27, as well as Matthew 8:28-34. In the first passage, Jesus calms a storm by “rebuking” (Matthew 8:26B) the winds and the sea. In the second passage, Jesus casts a large number of demons out of two men – and all he has to do is say, “Go” (Matthew 8:32A).

After seeing multiple examples of the power of Jesus’s words, we should have the same reaction the crowds had to the Sermon on the Mount: astonishment. Who else can speak with such authority? Who else’s words are so powerful that creation itself obeys? Why, none other than God himself:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. (Psalm 104:5-7)

Only God himself is supposed to be able to speak with such power and authority – and yet, here we see Jesus doing just that. Perhaps this proves that Jesus really is who he says he is: the Son of God.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19)

When God speaks in the Old Testament, things happen. When Jesus speaks in the New Testament, things happen. That’s because Jesus is not only fully man; he is fully God. The crowds were right to be astonished at Jesus’s words, and to observe that he spoke with far greater authority than their scribes. He’s the very son of God, united in power and authority with his Father. When we read the words of Jesus, I pray we’d have the same sense of awe.

Response Requested

Response Requested

This morning, I read Matthew 12. However, I found myself focusing especially on VS. 38-50. My Bible has these verses broken down into three sections: “The Sign of Jonah” (VS. 38-42); “Return of an Unclean Spirit” (VS. 43-45); and “Jesus’ Mother and Brothers” (VS. 46-50). While these three sections may have differences, I think there’s a common thread holding them together.

In our first section (VS. 38-42), some of the religious leaders challenge Jesus to give them a sign. Jesus has already done this numerous times, only to be criticized by these same religious leaders. In the last instance, they even accused him of performing the sign by the power of Satan! (Matthew 12:22-32) It’s safe to say their request for a sign is less than genuine. Jesus refuses to give them some spectacular sign, instead alluding to his upcoming death and resurrection. He compares his death to Jonah’s time in the belly of a fish. Jonah came out of the fish’s belly, and likewise, Jesus will come out of the tomb.

But then Jesus gets confrontational. He tells the religious leaders that they will be judged by those notoriously wicked Gentiles from Nineveh – people so depraved that Jonah ran the other direction when God sent him there. It’s not exactly a compliment when Jesus says people like them will judge you. Jesus then brings in a second story from the Old Testament: the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon (1 Kings 10). Like those evil people of Nineveh, the Queen of Sheba will “rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it” (VS. 41, 42). The Queen of Sheba is also – gulp – a Gentile.

Next, we go to our second section (VS. 43-45). Jesus tells the story of an unclean spirit leaving a person, failing to find rest, and then returning. When the spirit returns, he finds his old hangout looking better than ever, and invites some demonic buddies to shack up as well. Jesus says the person within whom the evil spirits now reside is worse than they were before.

Finally, we have our third section (VS. 46-50). Jesus’s mother and brothers seek him out; we have no idea what they wanted to discuss with him. But Jesus disregards the request from his family, instead focusing on the larger family of God – everyone “who does the will of my Father in heaven” (VS. 50).

Three passages, all covering three seemingly unrelated teachings. However, here’s the thread that holds them all together: Jesus is giving us a glimpse of how to properly respond to him, using the religious leaders in these verses (“this generation”) as an example of how NOT to respond to him.

VS. 38-42 show us how the religious leaders have rejected Jesus’s proofs of his identity as God’s son. As a result, Jesus says they’ll be judged by Gentiles (hence his using the people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba in his illustration) who do accept Jesus’s proofs and identity. In other words, it’s better to be a Gentile who responds properly to Jesus than a Jew (and a religious leader, no less!) who rejects him. The people of Nineveh responded properly to Jonah’s preaching by repenting of their sin. The Queen of Sheba responded properly to Solomon’s wisdom by honoring him. Jesus is greater than Jonah, and greater than Solomon; and yet, the religious leaders have rejected him. The idea that Gentiles would respond properly to God, while Israelites would reject God would have been scandalous in Jesus’s day – but that’s exactly what’s already happening. VS. 46-50 drive the point home, showing us that belonging to the family of God isn’t a matter of bloodlines, ancestors, and family trees. Those who belong to the family of God respond properly to Jesus – in faith and obedience. God’s family is made up of those who repent of their sin, and believe in, worship, and obey his son.

So where do VS. 43-45 fit in? It’s a warning to the religious leaders about the danger of continual rejection and false repentance. The person who continually rejects Jesus – or even worse, continually practices false repentance – will only find themselves more hardened than they were before.

But here’s the big question: How have you responded to Jesus? Have you rejected him like the religious leaders in this passage – demanding one sign after another, even though Jesus has already given the ultimate sign of his death and resurrection? Have you assumed you’re a part of God’s family because your parents responded properly to Jesus, or have you actually responded to him yourself? Has your life been filled with some occasional, false repentance of sin when times get bad – or genuine faith and discipleship?

The beauty of the Gospel is that by God’s grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit, sinners can respond to Jesus properly. We can repent of our sin, believe, trust, and obey the Savior who died for us – and didn’t stay dead. So…how have you responded to Jesus?