Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)
“Hosanna” is a word that literally means “Save us now!” but it had grown into the context of an expression of praise at the time it was used during the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, just a few days before His arrest and crucifixion. The crowd which was shouting “Hosanna” certainly meant both the idea of a longing for salvation and a desire to exalt the praises of this “prophet” who had recently raised a man, Lazarus, from the dead. In John’s account of the event (chapter 12), he says that those who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus in nearby Bethany had spread the story widely, and as the crowds streamed into Jerusalem from across the country, and even internationally, this miracle and others were the talk of the gathering masses.
God had set the fullness of time so that politically, emotionally, and spiritually the stage was set for the coming of His promised Messiah. And, for all appearances, the people were responding as one would hope for the rise of a Messiah. The expressions of the people at this event were drawn from Messianic Scriptures. The laying of their garments before Jesus was a symbol of their willingness to submit to His reign. The waving of the palm branches was a symbol of expectation and praise. If Jesus had wanted earthly power, He would have had no better time to seize it, especially if accompanied by a legion of angels to defeat the Romans.
The issue was that those palms waved in expectation were expecting the wrong thing. That’s the problem with us short-sighted humans, especially in the case of dealing with an all-wise, all-knowing God; we get these expectations that are so limited, so in tune with our felt needs and desires that we don’t see the big picture, the eternal needs, the prize that is worth so much more than the bobbles and trinkets that we would settle for. What we need with God is expectancy more than expectations. Our expectations are for certain outcomes we can imagine, and which we feel would satisfy what we perceive as our biggest needs. But if we would only meet God with an attitude of expectancy that is open to what He would so wisely and lovingly give to us, we would be blown away by what He will bring to fruition.
They were shouting, “Save us now!” with the expectation of a kingdom of this world and relief from oppression, but the salvation He was bringing to them was eternal peace with God and membership in a spiritual kingdom which could not be defeated and would not pass away. They didn’t realize that the enemy wasn’t Rome, it was sin, it was death—in a real sense THEY were the enemies of God themselves because of their sin. They didn’t realize that they needed salvation from the latter far more than from the former.
Do we suffer from that kind of short-sightedness, too? Do we cry out for salvation from things that pass away far more than we do from things that come against us eternally and spiritually? Do we box God in with expectations for outcomes that are limited by what we think we need rather than trusting God to bring salvation and deliverance from those things that He knows are far more important? Are our waving palms of expectation and praise more manipulative and self-seeking than we have realized?
As they laid their cloaks on the ground, were they really as ready to submit to the will of the King as they thought? They were quite willing when they believed He was fulfilling their desires, but what about when those expectations went unmet? How about us? Do we submit to God when He’s giving us what we think we need then balk when He colors outside our lines? Do we submit when it’s not the crown we see directly in front of us, but a cross staring us in the face? Are our submissions based on our expectations or our faith and obedience?
The way to avoid the mistakes of the superficiality of that First Century crowd is really found in this song: we need to fix our eyes on Him and hope in Him, not in a perceived outcome. We need to yearn for Him, for relationship with Him, for His presence. When we dwell there we find that strength to face whatever outcomes we face in this world, with a sure and certain trust that all of His promises will be made manifest in the next. There are, indeed, promises for this present world, but we must be able to tell the difference between what He has promised us for here and now, as opposed to what He has in store for then and there. In this world He promises us His presence, peace, love, provision, purpose, renewal, strength, power, discernment, victory and much more that we receive spiritually. Yes, we may see many physical and circumstantial answers to our prayers and needs in this world, but, like with Israel, it may well be that our vindication and ultimate victory won’t be seen until He has returned and restored things to what He has intended them to be—what He has promised in His infallible Word.
In the meantime, let us worship like those in the crowd on that day of Triumphal Entry, but let our expectations instead be expectancy. Let our submission be total, even when our expectations are dashed. Let our praises flow from the intimacy of dwelling in His presence, seeing His face, turning our eyes upon Him in faith and hope. May He truly have His way among us! Hosanna!