The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, ”Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt!” - John 12:12-15
Just over half-way into John’s Gospel we read of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for the Passover feast while riding on a donkey over palm branches amid shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The other gospels record the Palm Sunday event toward the end of their accounts. John places the event in the center of his gospel, for he understands the showdown in Jerusalem to be the centerpiece of the Gospel.
The words proclaimed by the crowds that day are from Psalm 118, a psalm of assents. Pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for Passover would have recited this psalm as they made their way to the Temple. “Hosanna!” has added significance as Jesus enters the Holy City. The word “Hosanna” literally means “save us” or “rescue us.” It is the type of cry that a peasant might make to a king as he passed by. The cry of this crowd is more an expression of confidence, as if to proclaim Jesus as their savior. Added to the words in Psalm 118 is the proclamation, “even the King of Israel.”
Jesus is proclaimed king in several significant moments in John’s Gospel – first by Nathanael in chapter 1, here by the crowds as Jesus enters Jerusalem, and by Pilate in chapter 19 both when he presents Jesus to the crowd with the words, “behold your king,” and later in the passion narrative when he fashions a charge to be nailed on the cross above Jesus, “King of the Jews.” The kingship of Jesus is a central theological theme in John’s Gospel.
What is overwhelmingly fascinating is that the crowd had little idea what was truly going on. Jesus, of course, was going to Jerusalem for the final showdown with the institutions of power, to “lay down his life for his friends.” His journey was to the cross. The only crown waiting for him was one made of piercing thorns. Indeed, the crowd was ultimately correct in proclaiming Jesus as the King of Israel and in professing him as their savior. What they did not expect was that the journey to the throne was by way of the cross.
Hosanna! Lord save us… from our sin, from ourselves. May our lives be a blessing to you, the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston