March 27, 1983
(Palm Sunday Evening)
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
John 12:9-18 ESV When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there,
they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised
from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well,
11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in
Jesus. 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus
was coming to Jerusalem. 13 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!" 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it
is written, 15 "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a
donkey's colt!" 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when
Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about
him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called
Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18
The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this
I know one of the concerns of the children's music ministry is that the children
understand what they are singing and that they mean it. And I share that concern for our
people. In a moment the choir will sing a song called, "Hosanna, Hosanna!" And after
that we all will sing a song which begins: "Hosanna in the highest!" So I want to give a
little lesson in Greek and Hebrew, to make sure we all know what the New Testament
means when it says in three different places, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" (Matthew
21:9, 15); or, "Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11:9, 10); or simply, "Hosanna!" (John
A Lesson in Greek and Hebrew
You all know that the New Testament was first written in Greek, and the Old Testament
was first written in Hebrew. Wherever the word "hosanna" occurs in the New Testament,
do you know what the Greek word is? Right! It's "hosanna." All the English translators
did was use English letters (h-o-s-a-n-n-a) to make the sound of a Greek word.
But if you look in a Greek dictionary to find what it means, you know what you find? You
find that it is really not originally a Greek word after all. The men who wrote the New
Testament in Greek did the same thing to a Hebrew word that our English translators did
to the Greek word: they just used Greek letters to make the sound of a Hebrew phrase. I
know this sounds sort of complicated. But it's really not. Our English word "hosanna"
comes from a Greek word "hosanna" which comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na.
And that Hebrew phrase is found one solitary place in the whole Old Testament, Psalm
118:25, where it means, "Save, please!" It is a cry to God for help. Like when somebody
pushes you off the diving board before you can swim and you come up hollering: "Help,
save me . . . Hoshiya na!"
A Shift in Meaning
But something happened to that phrase, hoshiya na. The meaning changed over the
years. In the psalm it was immediately followed by the exclamation: "Blessed is he who
comes in the name of the Lord!" The cry for help, hoshiya na, was answered almost
before it came out of the psalmist's mouth. And over the centuries the phrase hoshiya
na stopped being a cry for help in the ordinary language of the Jews. Instead it became
a shout of hope and exultation. It used to mean, "Save, please!" But gradually, it came
to mean, "Salvation! Salvation! Salvation has come!" It used to be what you would say
when you fell off the diving board. But it came to be what you would say when you see
the lifeguard coming to save you! It is the bubbling over of a heart that sees hope and joy
and salvation on the way and can't keep it in.
So "Hosanna!" means, "Hooray for salvation! It's coming! It's here! Salvation! Salvation!"
And "Hosanna to the Son of David!" means, "The Son of David is our salvation! Hooray
for the king! Salvation belongs to the king!"
And "Hosanna in the highest!" means, "Let all the angels in heaven join the song of
praise. Salvation! Salvation! Let the highest heaven sing the song!"
Two Kinds of Hosannas
Picture a Super Bowl game, and (believe it or not) the Vikings are three points ahead of
the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are on their own 35 and have no more time outs.
There are two seconds remaining on the clock. The Vikings' fans are going wild. The
Steelers line up, fake a pass to the receivers on the left sideline, and run a wide sweep
around the right end, and the quarterback breaks into the open and heads down the right
sideline-40 - 45 - 50 - 45. The only hope for the Vikings is Willie Teal, the safety, cutting
a diagonal across the field. And out of the Vikings' grandstand come two kinds of
hosannas, the old kind and the new kind. One part of the crowd is yelling: "Catch him!
Catch him, Willie!" (That's the old hosanna.) The other part of the crowd is yelling, "You
got him! You got him, Willie!" (That's the new hosanna.) The word moved from plea to
praise; from cry to confidence.
So when we sing "Hosanna" now, let's make it very personal. Let's make it our praise
and our confidence. The Son of David has come. He has saved us from guilt and fear
and hopelessness. Salvation! Salvation belongs to our God and to the Son! Hosanna!
Hosanna in the highest!
Copyright John Piper