A few weeks ago, the Academy Awards were on TV. Did you see them? Even if you didn't, you know how the people arrived, right? Those stars did not sneak in a back door somewhere. They know how to make an arrival: the finest vehicles, the most exquisite clothing, the perfect presentation, and, of course... the red carpet. That is how someone important arrives.
Then there's Jesus. In Mark 11, we see him entering Jerusalem to complete the work he came to do, to accomplish the most important accomplishment in the history of the world - and he rides in on a donkey. Something's different here. Jesus was not in this for himself. He came for us.
And the people celebrated it. Open up your bible and read Mark's account of it. They rushed to do whatever they could to honor him - their garments, palm branches, their praises. All of it and more they wanted to give to the one who, as they said, "comes in the name of the LORD."
Why? Well, the answer to that is in the word they shouted: "Hosanna!" It means "Save us Lord!" It's a word all over the place in the Psalms sung by pilgrims making their way into Jerusalem for the Passover, as they turned their hearts to the only source of their salvation - as they looked to the temple and the sacrifices they would make there and the promises God gave from that place. "Hosanna! You are our salvation Lord!"
But on this day, those words took on a whole new meaning. Actually, more accurately, they finally found the meaning they had had all along. They finally found their fulfillment in the One who could do what that building in Jerusalem never could, what sacrifice after sacrifice on that altar never really accomplished. Today, we sing Hosanna, "Save Us" to the One who truly can...and did. God had promised it in so many details. And Jesus came and fulfilled every one of those details, from the donkey ride (Zechariah 10) to the palm branches (Psalm 118), from the Passover Lamb (John 1:29) to the crushing of Satan's power (Genesis 3:15).
Do you see what all this means? They were right when they sang, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!" Now, did these Palm Sunday worshippers understand all that? Probably not. Some of them, maybe. Some of them saw in Jesus the fulfillment of those promises. Some of them saw the One who came to save them from their sins. But most probably saw something else. The events of the rest of the week play that out.
Why? What went wrong? Well, it's just that, well... they had problems. They were looking for some relief from the problems of real life: the Romans oppressing them, the economy, the uncertainty, the taxes, and all the rest. They didn't see that the root of all their problems was their relationship with God.
They didn't see their need for a Savior from sin. The other problems were more pressing. Besides, they were pretty good people, right? So on Palm Sunday, they shouted the words, but missed the meaning.
Now here's the question. Can you blame them? They saw Jesus, the one who had power to heal their diseases and calm their storms and feed them and protect them and give them power. So they welcomed him, expecting him to do what they wanted.
It's way too easy to get caught up in that same kind of excitement, isn't it? We'll shout Hosanna to Jesus too, as long as he does what we want, right? No, we won't say that out loud, but it eats away at the back of our minds, doesn't it?
When? Last time you were at the hospital at the bedside of someone you loved, wouldn't you have rather had Jesus come to wipe out all disease? He had the power to do that.
Or when you see hunger and famine and poverty, have you ever wondered why God doesn't just end all of that? He could have.
Or what about the oppressed and victimized - wouldn't it have been better if Jesus would have come and demanded and commanded obedience from every power? He could have.
Really, anytime things aren't going like you had hoped, it's easy to make the mistake of welcoming Jesus expecting him to do what we want instead of welcoming him as Lord and gladly submitting to what He wants. And when we make that mistake, and things don't go our way - it's all too easy to find ourselves with that same crowd in Jerusalem on Friday, again shouting, but this time it's not "Hosanna!" This time it's "Crucify him."
Have you ever been baffled at how that could have happened to that crowd? How that change could have come about? Don't be. All you have to do is look to your own life and compare your praises today with the lifting of your voice in anger later this week. Compare your words of love now with your thoughts of greed or lust or whatever will besiege you by Friday.
Ponder that for a bit and you'll realize: we didn't need a healer; we didn't need world peace; our greatest need was not social justice. We needed a Savior from the guilt of our sin. We needed one who came in the name of the LORD to be that Savior. We needed the kingdom he would establish.
And so he took those shouts of "Crucify." He took our guilt, and fulfilled the purpose for which he came. And in so doing, he answered our cry: "Hosanna! Save us Lord!" He did. Join us this Sunday to shout His praise!
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.