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.