Several well known statements are found in Psalm 118:1-25: “His steadfast love endures forever,” “this is the day the LORD hath made,” “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and even others still. Verse 25 reads “Save us, we pray, O LORD” in the ESV; “O LORD. we beseech thee, save us now!” in the King James. The Hebrew word rendered in English as save now is hosanna.
All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’s triumphal entry. Palm Sunday is our celebration of Jesus entering Jerusalem for the last time to observe Passover with his disciples. The crowd, made up of Jews from all over the known world, shouted “Hosanna!” and wave palm branches, spreading branches and their own cloaks on the roadway. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.” Hosanna was regularly spoken during the Festival of Booths (or tabernacles), and by the first century had become a declaration of praise. The first century Jews cried out for salvation as Jesus entered Jerusalem. They could see in his actions and hear in his words the fulfillment of messianic prophecies. When Jesus cleansed the temple the next day (according to Mark 11) this only helped to confirm their slightly misguided ideas. Jesus was in fact the Messiah (or Christ – anointed one) but not the kind they were looking for.
Israel had not been an independent nation with a king on the throne in Jerusalem for centuries. Ruled by Babylon, then Assyria, and in the first century the Roman Empire, the Hebrew Jews were a concurred people. Even during their few years of freedom in the early centuries B.C., they could not choose a king. The first century Israelites, paying heavy taxes to the Roman Caesar, recognized that Jesus fit the prophetic bill for Messiah; but they were looking for a king to sit on the throne of David in Israel, a military leader to best the Roman army. Some even tried to place him on the throne by force. During the week of his Passion (or Holy Week) Jesus talks about a kingdom not of this world, and equates himself with God. The joyful crowd shouting “Hosanna” on Sunday would turn into an angry mob crying “Crucify him” by the end of the week.
So what is triumphal about Jesus’s entry into the city? It looked like a victory to the world. It seemed to be Jesus’s finest hour. Perhaps the disciples thought their rabbi was finally getting the attention he deserved. Even they did not understand the warnings about suffering and dying that he had so plainly spoken to them three times already. His triumph quickly turned to tragedy as his followers fled and he hung on the cross of Calvary. But things are not always what they seem; what the world saw (and still sees today) at the cross is ultimate defeat. The end. The Pharisee leaders perhaps thought their “Jesus problem” was over; but their problems were only beginning. Peter is clear in Acts 2 that this was in the “definite plan and foreknowledge” of God. Even Psalm 118 had made mention of the same – this was of God.
The world’s ideas of success and failure are often not shared by God, and should not be shared by his followers. Jesus’s greatest work was done as he hung on the cross and died, and the faith of the New Testament church would be in his death, burial and resurrection.