Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once. This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”Matthew 21:1-9
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He came riding on a young donkey colt. Only Matthew tells us about this colt’s mother. The disciples untie both animals and bring them to Jesus, but He rides on the younger of the two. And all of this is done to fulfill the words of the prophet — actually two prophets. Matthew sees this as a fulfillment of both Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 62:11.
When Jesus appears, the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!” But what does that mean?
The word Hosanna simply means “save us now” or “save us please.”
It’s found in Psalm 118.
Save us, we pray, O LORD!O LORD, we pray, give us success!Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!Psalm 118:25-26
The cry of “Hosanna” was associated with the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles. This feast celebrates the time when Israel was in the wilderness and God provided water for them out of the rock. Thus, a tradition developed many years later where the cry “Hosanna” was offered up as a prayer for rain. When these verses were read as part of the observance of this feast, the people would wave myrtle, willow, and palm branches. It seems that all of this was eventually associated with Passover as well, which is the reason for the crowd being in Jerusalem at this time anyway.
When the crowd shouts, “Hosanna to the Son of David” and waves the palm branches as Jesus enters Jerusalem, they are greeting Jesus as the Messiah. They are declaring that He is God’s anointed one from the house of David. They are announcing that He is a king.
But the real question is: What kind of Messiah will Jesus be?
And it seems that the people were NOT prepared for the kind of Messiah they received on that day.
What kind of Messiah is Jesus? The answer comes, in part, by looking at how Jesus chooses to enter Jerusalem.
- He comes riding on a young donkey, not a war horse or riding in a chariot.
- The colt is so young that it seems it needs it’s mother to accompany it on this journey, probably because of the noisy crowd. Could you imagine a less imposing animal?
- The prophecy itself that Matthew refers to says the Messiah comes in humility.
- Rather than being adorned in regalia and battle paraphernalia like Caesar, Jesus rides into Jerusalem unarmed, dressed as an ordinary citizen.
You have to read the triumphal entry against the backdrop of Roman occupation to truly understand the Jewish expectation at that time. Reading this 2,000 years later, we will sometimes fault the Jews for expecting the Messiah to establish an earthly kingdom. Well, of course they expected that! And they had good biblical reason to expect that!
Passover was a holiday celebrating Jewish freedom from their oppressors. In the Exodus story, it was Egypt; in the NT times, it was Rome. Rome stood for everything that was wrong in the mind of the first century Jew. Their occupation of the holy land was an affront to Jewish nationalism, to Jewish identity. And they thought their best shot at deliverance was to wait for the day when God would send His Messiah into Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans and kick them out of their country.
But against all their expectations, Jesus rides a donkey — which ancient kings were known to do when they came in peace. For instance, in 1 Kings 1, David suggests that Solomon ride a donkey at his inauguration to symbolize a continuance of peace for the people.
Against all their expectations, Jesus doesn’t roll into Jerusalem like Arnold Schwarzenegger, dropping one liners and toting a machine gun.
He comes on a donkey.
Over the course of that last week before His death, there is a shift that takes place in the hearts of the people — at least many of them. Jesus doesn’t do the things that many in the crowd expected him to do and He does plenty of other things that they never expected.
- He goes to the Temple, but instead of driving out the Romans, He drives out the money changers.
- Instead of cursing Caesar, Jesus curses a fig tree.
- Instead of crushing the enemy, Jesus tells stories.
- He says things like, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matt. 21:43)“
- He tells the people to pay their taxes to Caesar.
- He tells people to love their neighbor.
- He calls out the Pharisees, saying “For they preach, but do not practice. (Matt. 23:3)” and “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. (Matt. 23:5)“
- It sounds for all the world like Jesus is picking a fight with the religious leaders when He says, Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matt. 23:15)
- He predicts that the Temple will be destroyed.
- He talks about judgment, but not in the way people wanted. He says things like, For I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. They also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not minister to you?” Then he will answer them saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:42-26)
- Then when a woman comes to anoint him with a flask of expensive ointment, the disciples respond indignantly, saying, “This could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” It sounds like they absorbed the point Jesus just made. But Jesus says, Why do you trouble this woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. You’ll always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. (Matt. 26:10)
- Throughout the course of that week, Jesus continued to defy the expectations of those around Him, even His closest followers. The crowd shouted, “Save us, Son of David….but not that way. That’s not the way you’re supposed to do it. You’re not supposed to say and do those things!”
By the end of that week, those shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!” had turned into, “Crucify Him!”
What is the message for us then?
Here it is, in the form of another question:
What do you do when you’re disappointed with God?
What do you do when the one you’ve been expecting doesn’t meet your expectations?
What do you do when your prayers aren’t answered the way you think they ought to be answered? You pray and you pray for something but your expectation isn’t met — even when you have good biblical reason for that expectation. What do you do?
What do you do when your life takes an unexpected turn? You find yourself in a hospital bed or standing at the grave of a loved one saying, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way?”
Even the best of us seem to struggle with this. John the Baptist, sitting in prison, sends his followers to Jesus with a simple question: Are you the Messiah or should we look for another? Not even John the Baptist was immune from this kind of disappointment.
We all have to contend with the idolatry of our own expectations.
What do we do when we’re disappointed with God? That’s one of the “litmus” test questions and I suppose we could come up with plenty of ways to answer it.
When we find ourselves dealing with this particular kind of disappointment, one thing we can do is to thank God for being greater than our expectations. There are some lessons you only learn through adversity, through hardship, through losing. If God were no greater than our expectations, He wouldn’t be God. If He was constantly seeking to meet our every expectation, He wouldn’t be God. And by allowing us to experience disappointment, God deconstructs the idol of our own expectation and reminds us of the eternal truth of all things: He is God and I am not. That is the lesson we learn in disappointment and it’s a vital one.
And right there, in the throes of disappointment, we can also do this: we can continue to sing, Hosanna! Save me please!
- Which praise does God honor more? And which praise brings Him the most honor?
- The cry of the zealous masses, hungry for a God to come meet all their demands?
- Or the Hosanna, save us, please! that comes from the depths of disappointment?
So as God’s people, may we cry Hosanna again as a way of tearing down the idol of our own expectation.
Lord, save us please!