DECEMBER 3, 2017 1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Sometimes peoples' words mean more than they know.
One example is in John chapter 11. The time is not long after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The Jewish leaders met to discuss what to do about Jesus. They were afraid that He would keep on doing miracles and all the people would believe in Him. They thought that was a bad thing. Apparently they thought that would lead to the people revolting and then the Romans crushing the rebellion and in the process destroying Jerusalem and the Temple.
High Priest Caiaphas spoke up in v.49-50, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish.” John goes on to record, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “He (Caiaphas) did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and no only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.” (v.51-52)
Caiaphas did not know the full depth of meaning of the words he spoke. He only saw a worldly escape for his nation. But his words – inspired by God – meant Jesus' death would provide salvation for all God's children. Sometimes peoples' words mean more than they know!
So it is with verses 9 and 10 today. The pilgrims following Jesus from Bethany through Bethphage and into Jerusalem, and the crowd that came out from Jerusalem to meet Him, all shouting words that mean more than they knew: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” No doubt the crowds thought they knew what they were saying, but these words meant far more than they knew – expressed a far deeper truth.
“Hosanna” – it is a Hebrew word, literally a one word prayer. It means “save now” or “grant salvation.” But it is used here less like a prayer and more like a joyful acclamation – like welcoming a hero: “all hail” or “3 cheers” or “hip, hip, hooray!” All these people most likely knew something about Jesus' miracles – most recently the raising of Lazarus. They used “Hosanna” as a word of praise and celebration. But here it was inspired by God in its deepest and original sense – as a prayer of desperation: “save now!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” This was used by the people that day as a shout of welcome. Most of them probably believed Jesus to be a prophet sent by God, at the very least a miracle worker. But “the Coming One” was long associated as a name for the Messiah. “In the name of the Lord” means “coming with the blessings given by God.” But the deeper meaning is “coming as the revelation of God Himself.”
v.10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” This may have been what worried the Jewish leaders. The people likely saw in Jesus a way to restore their nation as independent, free from Roman rule. The people may well have thought Jesus to be the Messiah, the Coming One, but a Messiah who was primarily a worldly ruler bringing worldly freedom. The deeper meaning given by God was that Jesus was the true fulfillment of the Son of David who would rule eternally, not just a small territory in the Middle East for a span of a few years, but ruling over the new heaven and new earth forever.
“Hosanna in the highest!” The simple meaning is “Hosanna in God's abode – in heaven.” But likely the people around Jesus, in their mindset, still meant it more as “3 cheers in God's abode!” The deeper meaning goes back to “hosanna” as a prayer “Save Now!” and asking that this prayer ascend to heaven to God's “ears.”
In a little while, we will sing these words together, first of all during the Sanctus, as we prepare to receive Holy Communion. In the Sanctus we first sing the song of the angels in Isaiah 6: “Holy, Holy, Holy,” followed by the song of the crowds on Palm Sunday: “Hosanna in the highest!” A little later we again will sing “Hosanna” in the 2nd Communion hymn.
We have probably sung “Hosanna” thousands of times in our lives. I am sure there have been times we have sung those words without thinking. I am sure there have been times we have sung them merely as praise. Perhaps there have been times we have sung these words as a prayer for forgiveness and salvation, but still didn't realize how much forgiveness we need.
I pray that we have the deeper understanding of these words of prayer and praise. I hope our understanding of our sinful condition is with eyes wide open - acknowledging that we are completely sinful, with no hope of changing that on our own. I hope that our understanding of Jesus focuses more on the salvation he brings for both our souls and bodies, rather than merely an escape from worldly troubles.
“Hosanna! Save now! Forgive my sins and wash away all my guilt!”
May God grant us, day by day, an ever growing, ever deepening understanding of the love that Jesus brings to us: love that is with us now, love that forgives all of the sin in all of our life, love that saves us, love that never leaves us, love that will raise us from the grave, love that will bring us into the new heaven and new earth when He comes again in glory. And so we pray: “Hosanna! Save now!” Amen.
St. Paul's Lutheran Church