“Sometimes they strew His way and His sweet praises sing; resounding all the day Hosannas to their King. Then ‘Crucify!’ is all their breath, and for His death they thirst and cry.” Did they know what they were saying? Did the crowd on Palm Sunday, or the crowd on Good Friday, have any idea what their words meant? Jerusalem received her King with shouts of ‘Hosanna’ on Sunday, then cast Him out with shouts of ‘Crucify’ on Friday. Did they know what they were saying? No. They shouted almost without thinking, caught up in the moment, stirred up by others; they shouted without stopping to ponder the meaning of the words they spoke. They were caught up in events much greater than they could even comprehend, and like many others in the life of Jesus, they spoke the truth without realizing it. They didn’t understand that the joyful, expectant cry of ‘Hosanna’ pointed to the same reality as the hateful, angry cry of ‘Crucify,’ that the shouts of Friday were the only answer to the pleas of Sunday. The two crowds didn’t realize that they were calling for the same thing: Jesus hanging dead upon a cross.
The crowds may not understand what they are saying; they may be shouting without much thinking, but Jesus does nothing haphazardly. Every action, every word, is deliberate. The King has arranged everything; He has set forth His plans and He will carry them out, instructing His disciples: “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.” He will enter the city in triumph, but He will enter in humility. He will enter not at the head of an army, but leading a motley collection of out-of-work fishermen. He enters in accord with the Scriptures: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” His chariot is humility; this King comes to serve.
But the crowd responds as they would for any conquering hero; they react as you would expect a people long under foreign rule to react when their King returns to the city of kings. “The crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” They call Him a King, their conquering hero; the Son of David come to take His rightful place on the throne. “Hosanna!” they shout, quoting the Psalms, which means: “Save us, please!” They seek salvation from this King, deliverance from oppression. This is God’s King, His instrument, the tool in the Lord’s hand to save them. What will He save them from? Foreign domination, poverty and oppression. He will deliver them politically, He will deliver them economically. How will He save them? Through armies and rebellion, or by the power of the finger of God, as in Egypt long ago. He will deliver them through a mighty display of temporal and divine strength.
This is their conquering King; the one who would fulfill all their prayers. As the Emmaus road disciples said, “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” Many who joined the throng that triumphant Sunday were no doubt shocked to wake up Friday to see that same King nailed to a cross. Another crowd, with another cry, had turned their hope to despair. “Pilate said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” The crowd responds as they would to any common criminal or rabble-rouser, to one deserving of death. They cry out for His blood; they want to see Him suffer, and they will.
The crowds may not understand what they are saying; they may be shouting without much thinking, but Jesus does nothing haphazardly. Every action, every word, is deliberate. The King has arranged everything; He has set forth His plans and He will carry them out, as He spoke to His disciples: “I lay down my life for the sheep… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” He, who has all power, who is God Himself in the flesh, departs the city as He entered it; in humility, with a crowd thronging around Him, crying out His Name. He departs to lay down His life willingly for the sheep. He departs to conquer, but not by military victory; He carries not a sword or shield but a cross. It is by being put to death that He will save; when the crowd cries out for His blood, they are crying out for the price of their salvation. And when they declare, “Let His blood be on us and on our children,” they are asking for the conversion of the nations. They do not know what they are saying. In Jesus, the cry ‘Hosanna’ is exactly the same as the cry ‘Crucify.’ And whether the crowd shouts in joy or in anger, He will answer their cries; Christ saves by being crucified.
That is the mystery of this Palm Sunday: the crowd that shouted ‘Hosanna’ and the crowd that shouted ‘Crucify’ were crying out for the same thing—Jesus dead upon a cross for the sin of the world. Jesus’ followers didn’t know what they were saying; they didn’t understand what kind of salvation Christ would bring, and they certainly were shocked to see how He would accomplish it. They were left, on Easter Sunday, saying in sorrow, “We had hoped that He was the One to redeem Israel.” The cries of ‘Hosanna’ seemed unfulfilled, unanswered as that day dawned. But ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Crucify’ mean the same thing; Christ saves by being crucified, and God proved it by raising His Son from the dead, triumphant over sin, death, and the power of the devil for you and your salvation.
It is this salvation for which we cry; it is for this salvation that we shout the Hosannas with the crowd on Palm Sunday. But do we truly know what we say? No. We shout almost without thinking, caught up in the moment, stirred up by others; we shout without stopping to ponder the meanings of the words we speak. Too often, we are, like the crowd, crying out for temporal deliverance by an unbloody Jesus. We would never choose suffering, for us or for Christ. We don’t understand the cost of salvation, because we underestimate our sin. We want deliverance from the symptoms without realizing the disease. But even in our more faithful moments we never fully understand the cross; these are mysteries so profound that even in heaven we will still marvel at them. Let us ponder these mysteries this Holy Week. Let us ponder how the crowd that shouted for His blood answered and fulfilled the cries of the crowd who acclaimed Him as King. Let us ponder the love of a Lord who despised the shame of the cross, going to suffering and death to free even those who nailed Him to the tree. Let us ponder the mystery of God suffering and dying in the place of sinful man, in your place and in mine. “What may I say? Heaven was His home but mine the tomb wherein He lay.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.