When Jesus entered Jerusalem, there was quite a stir. Luke says there were crowds of people who spread their cloaks on the road as his colt passed. Matthew and Mark add that others gathered leafy branches they had cut from the fields or trees nearby and tossed them into the road. Only John tells us they took palm branches and went out to meet Jesus, shouting as they went.
What, exactly, did the crowds shout when they greeted Jesus? There must have been many things that were said. In addition to cheering and calling out his name, we are told they shouted, “Hosanna!” And that seeming detail actually reveals a lot about what was going on.
“Hosanna” is an ancient Hebrew expression that means “save.” So, when the crowds shouted “Hosanna!,” they were calling out, “Save (us)!” That is, of course, more than just enthusiasm brimming over. It means that they had some belief, hope, and expectation that Jesus could and would save them.
Save them from what? A traditional Christian answer is, “From bondage to sin and death.” Just how that would be done they did not know. But that lack of information did not restrain their reactions to his dramatic entry into Jerusalem.
Imagine someone in the crowd, cheering, waving a leafy branch, and calling out, “Hosanna! Jesus! Hosanna!” All of which would have meant, “Save us!…God saves!…Save us!” That’s right. Now you know the rest of the story. The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” No wonder they were filled with emotion.
And now he approaches the city gates again, a lone rider with the hopes of the world on his shoulders. Palm Sunday is near. How shall we greet him?
Grace and peace,
Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation