Did you know that you know some Hebrew? If you have ever used the words amen or hallelujah, you are using some Hebrew. They are the words for truth and praise the Lord. Even oy is a Hebrew word for woe. You know more Hebrew than you thought. The word Hosanna is another one and that is going to be our focus today.
Before looking at what Hosanna means, let’s take a moment to think about why we have some Hebrew in the New Testament in the first place. The New Testament was originally written in Greek but here and there we have words in Hebrew or the related Aramaic. The New Testament writers could have easily translated the words into Greek but for some reason they choose certain words to transliterate, that is to keep the Hebrew word but write it in Greek characters. I suspect that these were words that had significant meaning and that by keeping the Hebrew, they are highlighting the importance of it. It is ancient way of bolding and underlining a word so that we don’t just pass over it.
So what does Hosanna mean? Hosanna is really “hosia na” and it means “please save.” It is a phrase that is found in Psalm 118:25, which is one of the psalms that was being sung as Jesus was entering into Jerusalem. Why transliterate this word? I think there are two reasons. One is that this is a primal prayer for many people. I suspect quite a few people, religious and non-religious, have looked up to heaven and asked for help. Another reason is that while the words Hosanna and Jesus look very different to us, they are formed from the same Hebrew root, and that is the word for save. The name Jesus, or more accurately, Yeshua, means the Lord saves. There is not just a linguistic link between Jesus and salvation, there is a theological link.
Even if you have absolutely no interest in Hebrew roots and origins, I strongly suspect that there is something in your life that you desperately want help for. I hope to demonstrate that Jesus is the one in who we can find hope.
I want you to use your imagination. Think about that original Palm Sunday two thousand years ago. People are streaming into Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations. Some of these Jews would have known about Jesus and many would not have. Those that were aware of Jesus would have recognized that there was something special. He was a teacher with authority. He was not afraid of the religious leaders, the Herods or the Romans. Many people had claimed that he had performed miracles. What they did know was that people looked to him as a leader and if the crowds would follow anyone, it would be Jesus.
With that in mind, as the crowds were singing Hosanna, please save, what were they meaning by those words? What are the chances that in their minds they were hoping that Jesus would die on a cross to provide atonement for their sins? While we may think of that as the way Jesus saves, it is unlikely that is what they were thinking of.
The Jews who were there that day, whether they knew Jesus or not, had much more immediate ideas of the kind of salvation they needed. They wanted someone who would be able to throw off the Roman yoke, someone who would bring political and military freedom to Israel, someone who would lead them to victory the way King David did one thousand years before.
I wonder how disappointed they were. Not only did Jesus not start a rebellion, the whole event was rather anti-climatic. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, looks around the temple and then leaves the city. That was not very helpful.
Hosanna. Please save us from what we are experiencing right now.
What is your immediate need? When you say Hosanna with full honesty, what is the thing that comes to mind? What is it that really weighs on you? Is it health, physically or mentally? Is it finances or relationships? What is it that you really need? I want to say that it is appropriate to cry Hosanna about that situation that is weighing on your heart.
The people cried out for salvation. Jesus’ name indicated he was the one through whom salvation would come. Did Jesus save and what did that look like?
The answer is that Jesus did save and that salvation looked different than they expected.
Instead of organizing an armed rebellion against the Romans, less than a week after this event, Jesus was hung on a cross and left to die. This looked like the ultimate defeat and it certainly was not what the people were hoping with their Hosanna. But what actually happening?
There are some detailed theological explanations of what happened on the cross but I want to keep it simple. This is what we know:
- It had always been the plan for Jesus to go to the cross.
- Jesus could have avoided the cross if he had chosen.
- Jesus really did die on the cross.
- That death reconciled us to God, bringing us in right relationship with God.
- Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.
What does this mean for us? One of the things that it means is that we have access to eternal life. But if we minimize the gospel to getting a ticket to heaven, we are missing out on something important. We are told at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry that he preached the gospel, literally good news. The gospel was not that if his listeners believed that Jesus died on the cross that they would go to heaven. The gospel was that the kingdom of God or the reign of God was appearing. The death and resurrection of Jesus are extremely important parts of that kingdom but the good news is not just that no matter what bad stuff happens now that we will go to heaven. What Jesus did on the cross is a sign that God is active in this world and that his kingdom is real. The death and resurrection of Jesus means we have eternal life but that eternal life starts before we die. The power of God is at work in our life right now and we can expect God to be with us before we go to heaven.
There is a fantastic story that illustrates this in Acts 16. Two followers of Jesus, named Paul and Silas, were preaching in the city of Philippi. To make a long story short, they were arrested and thrown in jail. While they were in jail, God freed them by a miracle. There was an earthquake and their chains fell off. That was great for Paul and Silas but not so much for the jailer. His bosses would not appreciate him losing all his prisoners and citing a miracle would not get him off the hook. In fact, earlier in Acts, God freed Peter from jail and those guards were executed.
Just as the jailer was about to kill himself, Paul and Silas revealed themselves. Even though their chains were off and the doors were opened, they ad not left the jail.
This is where I want you to pay very close attention. The jailer says to Paul, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) We naturally interpret that as the jailer asking about how he could get to heaven. But notice that Paul has not preached anything and this is not a response to any statement about faith. What was it that was on the jailer’s mind at that moment? Was it heaven or was it fear of how his bosses would respond to the jail break? I suspect that the jailer’s question was more practical than spiritual.
Paul responds by saying, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) Paul has shifted the focus. Instead of worrying about how to report this, the jailer really needed to know Jesus. The jailer responded with faith and he was saved, in the sense of having the promise of eternal life.
It is tempting to stop there but what happens next is that he is sent word from his bosses that he is to release Paul and Silas. The jailer has been saved! He has been saved spiritually, but he has also been saved in terms of his first concern.
I can’t promise you that God will always intervene miraculously in your life, dramatically changing your circumstances so that everything works out the way you wanted. What I can promise you is that God is far more interested in you than just seeing you in heaven. He actually cares about what you are going through right now. Think about that one circumstance that I asked you to focus on. God is in there right now and what Jesus did on the cross is affecting that situation, slowly bringing it into the kingdom of God.
Hosanna. It can easily become just a part of our religious vocabulary. We can speak the word without meaning anything. But we should cry hosanna as the honest cry of our heart. Hosanna. Please save! Help me now! Jesus is the Saviour. He is the Saviour who died on the cross so that we might have eternal life and forgiveness of sins. But Jesus’ saving activity is at work in our life now, long before we breathe our last. What is that one situation you face? Find hope in the cross not just for a heaven that will make up for your suffering now but for God to be present in every aspect of your life right now.