Text: John 12:12-19
“Hosanna!” They cried. “Save us, now.” Tens, dozens, maybe hundreds of people, all gathering in Jerusalem. The time for the Passover had come, and many had come into town for the annual festival. Some had come from Galilee, others from farther. Wherever they came from, they gathered at the gate with palm branches in hand to see this coming king, Jesus. “Save us,” They cried. Save us like you did the wedding at Cana when they ran out of wine. Save us like you did for the five thousand, whom you fed in the wilderness with only five loaves and two fish. Save us, and get these Romans off our back. Save us like you did Lazarus, who was dead for 4 days but now is alive. Save us, they cried, but little did they know what that meant.
Hosanna to the one coming in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel. Surely Jesus heard these cries, and here on Palm Sunday wasn’t the only time that the people pleaded with Him to become King, or threaten to make Him one by force. History has shown us many who would delight in the situation, those who would capitalize on it. They would ride in on a great big horse, rouse all of the people and take back the land for the people – or for themselves. But Jesus, He rides in on a young donkey. Just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” Not with the bearing of a king does Jesus come, but with humility. As a servant. Humbly, Jesus our King, rides to cross to bear our sin and win our salvation.
We read in John 12, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” Here we are, at the last Passover of Jesus’ ministry. Shortly before this, He had raised Lazarus from dead. After lay in the tomb, dead for 4 days, Jesus called out to him, “Lazarus, come out,” and he did. This only served to upset the Jewish authorities, particularly the Pharisees, even more. They realized now that there was nothing they could do to prevent the people from following Jesus. They must put Jesus to death. Fittingly, the high priest had prophesied that year that Jesus would die to gather the children of God together. (Jn. 11:51-52)
Enraged at the raising of Lazarus, the Pharisees put out word that anyone who saw Jesus should let them know – so they could arrest Him. This made many wonder whether Jesus would actually come to the Passover, but here He is. And it’s not just Him, but by the Pharisees’ own admission, the whole world has gone out after Him. We see here that not all of the Jews are out to kill Jesus. There were many, many, faithful who recognized that Jesus is the promised Messiah long-hoped for.
The group at the triumphal entry was a mixture. Some were there mainly for the Passover. The festival itself wouldn’t be for a bit yet, but lots came early to purify themselves beforehand. Others were there to see Jesus. They had heard of all the signs that He had done and they, like the Greeks who would come to Philip in the following verses, wanted to see for themselves this King of Israel. This was, probably in no small part, thanks to the crowd that had witnessed Lazarus rising from the dead. The text says that, despite what the Pharisees were planning against Jesus and His followers, that crowd continued to bear witness to all that they had seen. This King of Israel was no ordinary king; He had the power to save, even from the grave.
And so they cried, “Hosanna!” Save us now, blessed King coming in the name of the Lord. Save us, O King. Save us from trial and tribulation. Save us from these oppressive Romans. Save us from hunger and thirst. Save us, and act like the King of Israel that you are!
Amidst their cries for glory and salvation, the true King of glory comes forth. The text says, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it.” This was to fulfill the prophecy from Zechariah 9, our Old Testament reading, which the Evangelist cites, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” Humbly, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to accomplish our salvation. He did not come in pomp or fanciness. He knew what He must do so that the daughter of Zion, a term for God’s chosen people, may live without fear.
Humbly, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a beast of burden, even as He Himself is a beast of burden on our behalf. He was born without sin, conceived by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. There was no deceit in His mouth nor did He bear iniquity in His actions. His life was a perfect and complete fulfillment of God’s Law. And now, in perfect submission to the Father’s will, Jesus rides to His own death on our behalf.
While the crowds cry out, laugh, and cheer, Jesus knows the real purpose of it all – their salvation. He knew that in just a short time crowds would be crying out for His blood. In true kingly fashion He would receive a crown, only His was made of thorns, pushed on His head to bring out that much more blood. In just a short time He would die. Why – for sins that He committed? No – for sins that we committed, and ones that we still do. Our sins put Him there. Our demands for glory, our demands for a life full of pleasure and happiness, our demands for freedom and independence caused He who came to give life to all to give up His own.
“Hosanna,” They cried. The words that we hear from Scripture are the same for them, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming.” “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Rejoice, it says. Rejoice and shout aloud, for the King, your King, is coming. Not like kings of the world does He come, but as the humble Son of God. Into Jerusalem He rides for our salvation. As the Disciples did not understand these things at the time, so does this fly in the face of our sinful nature. We’re so used to pictures of Jesus with a halo, the glorified Jesus, that we sometimes miss the humble Jesus.
This humble King rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, amidst glorious shouts, knowing full well that He rides on to His death. He went to fulfill all Scripture, to prove the His Word is true, to die for you. He went to comfort those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to bring them out of fear. “Hosanna,” we cry. Save us, we pray to Jesus that He would rescue us from the perils and pitfalls of this world. And save us, He does.
And so ride on, O King of Glory:
Ride on, ride on in majesty. In lowly pomp ride on to die. O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin. Ride on, ride on in majesty. In lowly pomp ride on to die. Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God Thy pow’r and reign.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), John 12:15.
 Jn. 12:12-13.
 Jn. 12:14.
 Jn. 12:15.
 Zec. 9:9.