Hosanna! - Matthew 21:1-17

Palm Sunday is the day when the Church commemorates King Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of his father King David. This is also the day that begins Holy Week, when God’s people commemorate our King’s great victory over death and hell, a victory that brought salvation to the whole world.

For our text, I’m adding a bit to the gospel reading from the Lectionary, and then dividing Matthew 21:1-17 up into three sections: the first seven verses which describe the coming of the King, the next four verses (8-11) which show the people responding to the King, and verses 12-17, which show us how the King saves His people.

In vv. 1-7, Jesus comes into Jerusalem in humility, in fulfilment of prophecy, and with intentionality. His coming was deeply political and theological, but it was also carefully planned and scripted in order to have an impact. In a certain sense, the Triumphal Entry was sanctified PR. Jesus wanted to grab people’s attention in order to advance His message, and so He arranged it so that everyone who knew Zechariah’s prophecy would recognize that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem as her king, bringing salvation with Him. And so not only should we recognize Jesus as king, we should join Him in using highly visible, biblically guided events to draw attention to Jesus. Because when Jesus entered Jerusalem the whole city wanted to know who He was. Since this is the question that we want Annapolis to ask, how can we stir up that question for them so that we can make a big public announcement about Jesus?

In vv. 8-11, we see people responding favorably to Jesus’ presentation of Himself as Jerusalem’s king. They give Him a royal welcome celebration, and more importantly, they treat Him as king by asking Him to save them. When they shout “hosanna”, that word is praise-plea that means “Save us!” They acknowledge Jesus’ kingly authority by asking for His help. This should be our response to Jesus too: we should honor Him, and ask Him for salvation, not only for us as individuals, but also for our city, our people, our world. This isn’t an imposition on the king, because it’s the king’s job to save his people. The reason Jesus came was to bring salvation! And so asking Him for salvation isn’t hubris or selfishness. It’s faith. Asking for a king-size favor like this from anyone else is asking too much, but asking for anything less from King Jesus would be an insult to His kingship.

Vv. 12-17 weren’t part of the lectionary reading, but as verse 15 makes clear, they are still a part of this same episode. These verses show us how the king saves. Jesus doesn’t ignore the hosannas in v.9. He immediately starts to answer them, but He does it in an unexpected way. Jesus brings salvation to Jerusalem not by confronting Herod or Rome, but by heading straight to the temple to purify it so that God’s people can worship God rightly. He causes a scene, casting out the money-changers and demonstrating that He will do whatever it takes to save His people. His priorities make it clear that saving His people in the areas of justice, politics, and economics are all downstream from a reformation in true worship. But Jesus is no revolutionary, remaking the Church according to His own preferences. His reformation is carried out according to the Word of God. His watchword is: “It is written…”.

But Jesus doesn’t stop with worship. He moves on to caring for the physical welfare of His subjects. He heals the blind and the lame, showing that a good king serves embodied people, not just arguments and abstractions. If worship, justice, and politics are in order, but people are not being cared for and healed, then the king’s job is not done.

Even as we see these lessons that earthly kings would do well to learn, we must remember that the point of this passage is about the King of Kings. We want our kings to rule well, but we don’t look to any earthly king to save us. We have no hosannas for the President or the Supreme Court or Congress; we save our hosannas for King Jesus! This makes all sorts of modern Pharisees and idolaters indignant. They mock our childlike faith, because we put no trust in princes or in politics. But have they never read “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise?” Call us naïve, call us childish, but we give our highest hosannas to King Jesus alone, because only Jesus can save us! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

Posted on Thursday, April 13, 2017 by CJ Bowen