When we were little our parents would say to us, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It was a quant and simple way to remember that the harsh things one person can say to another person pale in comparison to acts of physical violence. But the very fact this little rhyme even existed meant words in fact could and often did hurt. Words are powerful things. They can bring both comfort and assurance on the one hand and shame and terror on the other. Words can fill us with wonder and hope or reduce us to nothing. Yet, standing above all our words, all our creative and powerful utterances, is the Word of God. It is a Word which speaks things into existence, a Word that changes the fabric of time itself. This Word is dynamic. It is living and powerful. We, as the people of God, rightly honor and cherish His Word. It is the only measure of true teaching. It is our guide and the fount from which our faith flows.
The Word of God, as it is written down in the pages of Holy Scripture, is something we treat with great care and reverence. We want our English translations to be accurate, to faithfully hand on the message to us. We do not want someone’s own personal rendering of things but something faithful and true to the intent of the original Greek or Hebrew text. So, we are rightly critical of new translations of the Word. We want them to be rigorously examined and tested. Yet, with all this attention to detail there are some peculiarities to our translations we have grown accustomed to. For instance, with such a heavy insistence on a faithful translation of the text it is interesting there are some words that are not translated, or at least not always. Instead of giving us an English translation of the specific word, we are given a transliteration of it. Instead of translating the word “amen” which can mean “true, faithful, may it be” or something along those lines, we just say “Amen.” Instead of translating “Hallelujah” which means “praise the Lord,” we just say “Hallelujah.” But there is one I think we miss out on if we do not translate it. That is the shout from the crowd on the triumphal entry of our Lord who say, “Hosanna!”
As they spread out their cloaks on the ground before him, as they cut down palm branches to welcome the arrival of the Son of God into the city they shout out, “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!” (Mark 11:9-10) Hosanna is a word we ought to translate for it means, “Save us.” It is a cry for salvation. “Save us,” they cry out. “Save us in the highest!” This is not just some run of the mill praise of God, but it is a cry for salvation. Many people think this is simply a request for temporal salvation, that these are a people who are under foreign occupation. So, they cry out for deliverance from it. In other words, when they say, “Hosanna,” their focus is on the Roman authorities. While that may be true, no doubt there is much more to it. Perhaps even as they begin to cry out for salvation from oppression, they realize their need for saving runs much deeper than military might or revolution.
The call of hosanna begins in us by first looking inward, by examining yourself, your own desires, and passions. After all, to cry out for a savior is to confess you need saving in the first place. So, do me a favor. Take a moment to think about yourself, your thoughts, words, and deeds. Think about this past week, about how you have interacted with friends, family, and coworkers. You are Christians. You are heirs of eternal life. Have you lived as such? Have you honored your Lord with how you have conducted yourself?
I am sure each one of you have sins you would not want to be made known to anyone else. If you were to line your life up to the commands of God, you know full-well you would fall short. You may put on a great exterior façade for others to see, you may move through this life looking like you do not have a care in the world beyond your own gratification but the truth of the matter is much more flawed. You have lived most of your life as if you mattered more than your God. You have not honored Him with your bodies. You have not conducted yourselves as the children of the light. How many in your life have you failed to help when you could have? How many have you willfully hurt? You know those things you do that are sinful, the ones you know God despises, the ones you make the empty promises concerning saying you will change your ways and stop doing it, but you do not. How often do you go around with such vain attempts to clean yourself up but make no real progress?
Indeed, you possess a seemingly endless supply of sin and shame. Along with it comes a never resting desire to justify yourself. Perhaps you make excuses for your actions or assurances you are getting better, at least better than you were yesterday or certainly better than the person sitting next to you. If you only had more time or were better situated in life, then you could live a more holy and God pleasing life. As you go running off one way to find justification for your actions, you come up empty handed. When you turn and seek out a way on the other side, there too you find nothing to stand upon. No matter where you turn you must come face to face with the truth that you are a sinner, and you cannot save yourself. Eternal life is outside of your grasp. Condemnation and destruction are what you deserve. It is precisely here that we see the need to cry out, “Hosanna!” Save us, oh Lord, save us now!
Our Lord comes into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of Hosanna. He does not ride in on a war horse ready for battle but instead on this lowly steed. The image here is He is not coming there to wage war, but as one who is already victorious. He comes as a triumphant King. This image is worthy for us to hold on to, for your Lord does not ride into your life to destroy you and break you down. He comes, instead, as one who has already gained victory over your sin and shame. He comes as one who brings life into the midst of death, light amid the darkness. He comes into your life, into your failed attempts to justify yourself, and He declares victory for you. It is a victory He has secured through His life, death, and resurrection.
When we retell the story of our Lord’s birth every year, we are reminded that Joseph was to give the child the name “Jesus” because He would save His people from their sins. The name Jesus means, “Yahweh saves.” So, it makes sense that when this Jesus rides into Jerusalem they cry out for salvation. This is why He came. This is precisely what He came to do. You cannot save yourself. You cannot overcome your sin on your own. So, He has come to save you.
So, we celebrate and rejoice in the advent of our King, in the arrival of the living Word of God to do what we could never do. We cry out Hosanna and He has come to do just that. In Christ alone you are loved and forgiven. In His work you are saved.