“The Hosanna to the Yeshua”
March 20, 2016
We cry ‘save us’ to the one who comes as Savior.
I. A Festal Reflection (Psalm 118:1-29)
II. Jesus with us at the Gate (Psalm 118:14-29)
III. Hosanna to Yeshua (Psalm 118:25-26)
Dachau was the first Nazi prison camp, one of the largest. Though not a death camp, thousands died there, from typhus, starvation, medical experiments or summary execution. It began as a political prison, but expanded to include Russian prisoners, Roma or gypsies, homosexuals, and thousands of Jews. It included the camp system’s only ‘priest block,’ where three thousand priests and ministers were held, some for as much as a decade. Toward the end of the war thousands of Jews were death-marched into Dachau from Polish camps that were being overrun by the Russians. Then, just before the Americans and British reached Dachau, thousands were marched away. The population of inmates had swollen to almost 65,000, but there were only about 33,000 living prisoners when the Allies finally reached Dachau in April, 1945.
One was a reporter of Turkish and Italian descent named Nerin Gun, one of the few foreign reporters imprisoned by the Nazis for honest reporting. He was moved among eleven camps before reaching Dachau near the end of the war. By the time the Allies approached the camp was a writhing mass, dying of typhus and starvation. The commandant and most of the guards had fled, leaving only a few German soldiers inside, and the SS guards in their seven guard towers.
Today, as we remember and respond to the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, I want to read you Nerin Gun’s account of the American arrival at Dachau. “The day is ending and already the shadows of twilight cast a red tint on the rooftops of the SS buildings. Some of the fellows are getting ready for the night. But then, all of a sudden there is a shout from the roof of the neighboring barracks, where one of the prisoners is a lookout. "Die sind da” "Die Amerikaner!" The outcry is repeated, multiplied, blown up, and echoes back to us like the chorus of an opera, a chorus of 33,000 throats.
We are now all outside. How we got there I can't remember. But there we all are— peering at the end of the field, hidden in shadows. The three SS men are still on their tower, but have now pivoted their machine guns the other direction, and they too peer into the distance. Here now, coming from behind a cement-mixer at the edge of camp, an olive-drab shadow, his helmet embellished with leaves and branches, moves cautiously forward, submachine gun in one hand, grenade in the other. He is still quite far away but I can already imagine that I see him chewing gum. He comes cautiously, yes, but upright, stalwart, unafraid. At that moment, for me as for all of us, for all those eyes that now saw him, he was like the cowboy of my youth, the one out of my favorite books and films, whom I was now seeing for the first time in flesh and blood.
You would have been able to count on your fingers the number of those in Dachau who at any time had known an American or visited the United States. We knew America only through its films. And this first image of the liberation was truly one out of a tumultuous western, shot according to the time-honored rules. This soldier of the 3rd Battalion, 45th Combat Division, born in the American Midwest of Polish parents and now come to Dachau, was for us, in this moment of intoxication, the very incarnation of the American hero.
The silence was broken again by a burst of hurrahs, vivas, siegs and dobres, but all these Tower of Babel voices harmonized to express the same cry of gratitude. We stood before the fence, up on the roofs; some of us had climbed into trees and raised our arms to the heavens, waving berets, handkerchiefs, some even jackets, shirts, or any random rag; and this mass of humanity, only a few minutes earlier so apathetic, so somnolent, indifferent, exhausted, was now alive with wild enthusiasm. The GI with the somber uniform became aware of our presence. He stopped. He must have seen nothing but a multitude of skeletons dressed in tatters, organized into a frightful dance of death. He was dispatched as a scout; now he was in the entryway of Gehena, seeing the emaciated, haggard faces; the nauseating stench of our bodies and clothing wafting out to him. All this must have struck him like an hallucination. And the man in the olive-drab uniform with the big helmet covered with leaves and grasses, who had crossed all of Europe to get to us, turned, shrank back, and went behind the cement-mixer. We had frightened our liberator.
First GI at Dachau, we will never forget those first few seconds. Even those of us who have died since you freed them must have carried with them into the other world the memory of that unique, magnificent moment of your arrival. We had prayed, we had waited, we had lost all hope of ever seeing you, but you had finally come, Messiah from across the seas. You had come at the risk of your life, into an unknown country, for the sake of unknown people, bringing us the most precious thing in the world, the gift of freedom.
I love that account. But if the truth were apparent to our human hearts and eyes, the account of the triumphal entry would move us more deeply, carry more weight, have more impact. For Jesus really was the messiah, the savior, and in the Babel of voices that met him there was truth, the cry of ‘save us’ to the one who comes as Savior.
As we remember the passion of Jesus this year, we are going to study three Psalms that are used in the Gospel accounts, used by Jesus and the New Testament authors to give deep insights into his life, suffering and death, into the nature and truth of prophecy, and into the resurrection victory of God’s Messiah.
We begin this week with Psalm 118. Like the other psalms we’ll study this is quoted repeatedly, by each of the Gospels, on the lips of Jesus himself, by the crowd at Passover, and later by Peter. Today we’re going to zoom in on this Psalm, first the whole Psalm in its original setting, then the New Testament images it conveys and finally focusing on its key fulfillment in the triumphal entry.
So in the biggest picture, Psalm 118 is a festal psalm, one used, possibly composed, for the celebration of the feasts of the Jewish year. It is the last of a group of six psalms known as the Egyptian Hallel or praise. These were sung during the Passover feast, and Psalm 118 may have been the last hymn Jesus sang with his disciples before going to the Mount of Olives. Originally the Psalm may have depicted the king leading a procession in a thanksgiving festival, as Jehoshaphat did in 2 Chronicles 20 after God rescued Judah from its enemies.
Psalm 118 begins with pure praise: Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! 2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 3Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 4Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” The repeated phrase, his steadfast love, or chesed, endures forever is often seen in the Psalms. It was certainly part of Temple worship, possibly originating from the lips of David himself. Everyone in Israel is called to give thanks because of God’s steadfast love, but this truth is especially to be owned by those who fear the Lord, for only they truly trust his goodness. As we saw last week in Ephesians there is no greater truth for our hearts than God’s steadfast love.
But in verse 5 the Psalmist’s voice changes from communal to individual, reflecting the experience of a king or leader of the people. Verses 5-9 Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. 6The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 7The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 8It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. 9It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. If God is a God of steadfast love, then he is the best place to take refuge, and, hiding in him, we are safe from men’s schemes.
And that is the Psalmist’s testimony. Verse 10: All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! 11They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! 12They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! 13I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. 14The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. As we look at the mess the world seems to be in, both globally and domestically, we do well to remember that the Lord is our strength, our song, and our salvation.
In verse 15 we’re reminded that these words are being shared with a thankful throng of people, but it is still mostly individual testimony: Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, 16the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!” 17I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. 18The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. The people respond to the testimony by saying “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly and exalts us through his victory, and the leader responds to them by saying ‘Yes, he’s brought me through this and I’m going to tell the story of his deeds, how he has disciplined me but rescued me, even from death.
That’s the big picture of the Psalm, and the rest of the verses are, in one sense, only the group celebration of that rescue. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, the author behind the authors of Scripture, the remaining verses also to focus on a bigger victory, the victory of Jesus. So we’re going to switch lenses on our microscope and look a little more carefully at the rest of the Psalm.
Let’s read verses 19-29: Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. 20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! 26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. 27The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! 28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 29Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
This end of the Psalm has much more of a Palm Sunday feel. The Psalmist mentions the gates of Jerusalem, “Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” This kind of comment fits with the festival-of-victory structure of the whole Psalm, but it also reminds us of the specific Passover celebration of the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem, the celebration Jesus became the focus of in 33 A.D. John 12 “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him.”
In verses 21-23 the Psalmist sees the savior “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
This is the second instance where salvation is the cause of praise and thanksgiving. Salvation often means rescue or healing, but in this part of the Psalm it probably takes on a sense of rescue from sin, the advent of an eternal kingdom that we associate with Palm Sunday. When I read through the Hebrew of this Psalm I was reminded that ‘my salvation’ in verse 21 is ‘l’yeshua.’ Yeshua is ‘Jesus,’ in Hebrew. In a New Testament sense the Psalmist says, “I thank you that you heard me and you have come as my Jesus,” or at least “my savior.”
Verses 22 and 23 are deeply prophetic. It’s not really clear how the Psalmist would have understood these verses in his context, in a triumphal procession, but Jesus understood them perfectly. Later that week, in debate with the Jewish leaders, Jesus called himself the stone the builders rejected, which becomes the chief corner stone. Peter used these verses in Acts 4, as he testified of the resurrection to the Jewish Sanhedrin. “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Peter cites the Psalm again in 1st Peter 2, and contrasts the stumbling of many to the salvation of those who now “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” That’s what Psalm 118 is about, proclaiming the excellencies of God’s salvation, of the Savior who heard our cry for rescue.
Verse 24 says “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” As believers we quote this verse often, without really realizing the context. But the 2011 NIV translates it “The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice and be glad.” ‘It’ is this victory the Psalmist celebrated but also the triumphal procession Jesus participated in. The verse isn’t quoted in the Gospel accounts but the thought seems deeply present, and it is a great verse for our Palm Sunday, as we rejoice in the of Jesus, our victorious Savior.
But it’s verses 25-26 that were quoted by the crowds on Palm Sunday. We will come back to these verses in a minute, focusing the microscope even closer. Before that I want to glance at the rest of the Psalm. Verse 27 “The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” In the New Testament the metaphor of light is often applied to Jesus. Luke refers to the people who dwelt in darkness, who have been given light. John says “in him was life and the life was the light of men.” Jesus says “I am the light of the world.” He is the light God has made to shine into this world of darkness and sin and death. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” Paul tells us, “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In Jesus this verse has been fulfilled. He has made his light to shine upon us.
The second half of the verse is even more focused on Jesus, “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords up to the horns of the altar.” This is hard to translate. The NIV and a few other translations see a reference to the palm branches the crowd waved in the Triumphal entry, as in other feasts: “With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.” But most modern translations have sided with the King James translators and seen a reference to a sacrifice. During Passover the sacrifice of a spotless lamb the central reminder of God’s rescue. But we know from the New Testament that Jesus is the Passover lamb, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” So this verse sees beyond the incarnation, beyond Palm Sunday to the events of the crucifixion itself. Jesus who entered triumphantly became the festal sacrifice.
The Psalm ends with a return to the thanksgiving that began it. “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 29Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” By the end of the Psalm this thanksgiving is even more deserved, for the Psalmist has seen not only his own deliverance and celebration, but the deliverance of the Messiah and the prophetic reality of his sacrifice and his victory.
But the hinge, the key moment of Palm Sunday is seen in even more detail in verses 25 and 26: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! 26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.” These are the verses explicitly quoted by the crowds at the Triumphal entry. Matthew says “And 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!” In John we read “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!”” Clearly this crowd saw, in Jesus, a fulfillment of Psalm 118.
Their response reminds me of the Dachau prisoners: “The silence was broken again by a burst of hurrahs, vivas, siegs and dobres, but all these Tower of Babel voices harmonized to express one cry of gratitude. We stood before the fence, up on the roofs; some of us had climbed into trees and raised our arms to the heavens, waving berets, handkerchiefs, jackets, shirts, or any random rag; and this mass of humanity, only a few minutes earlier so apathetic, so somnolent, indifferent, exhausted, was now alive with wild enthusiasm.”
But what is this Passover crowd really saying? Notice that the Gospels use the word ‘Hosanna’ where the Psalm uses the words ‘Save us, we pray, O Lord.” That’s because what the crowd says is brought over directly from the Hebrew not translated into Greek or Aramaic or English or any other language.
The Hebrew of Psalm 118:25 is “hoshi-a-na,” Hosannah. It’s from the same root word as Yeshua, and it means rescue or save, please. In fact if you were to literally translate the verse it would say ‘please, Lord, save, please, please Lord, prosper, please.” It is so much a cry for help. Just as many of us pray, frequently, “O Lord, help,” or “O Lord, let this work,” so Psalm 118:25 is a desperate cry for help, and for things to work. This is why the title of the message is The Hosanna to the Yeshua, and the key sentence reminds us that we cry ‘save us’ to our Savior.
But why would they cry this? Well, the Jews of that day could see clearly, on at least one level, that they needed salvation. They were oppressed by the Roman conquerors, they had no rights, they were often forced to violate both religion and conscience, they were subject arbitrary justice or no justice at all, they were taxed to poverty, they were forced to serve the Romans as conscript labor, and the slightest violation of these rules and strictures could lead to the cross, or lead tens or even hundreds of their countrymen to the cross. It was a time of crying out to God for salvation, in the sense of rescue and justice.
But it was also a time of growing awareness of spiritual bankruptcy. The religious leaders of their nation had pushed the God who had promised to be with them further and further back into the realm of the transcendent unknowable and had substituted an elaboration of law that left little or no room for mercy or forgiveness or even effective sacrifice. The Pharisees and their like called most of the Jews ‘Am Ha’aretz,’ the people of the land, whom they deemed to be unclean, negligent in their law-keeping, rustic, boorish and uncivilized. These are the people Jesus ministered to, fishermen, tax collectors, “sinners,” and these are the people to whom Jesus offered salvation, not just rescue or just healing but explicitly and repeatedly, forgiveness of sins. You remember these accounts. He said to the sinful woman who anointed his feet “Your sins are forgiven.” 49Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50Then he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you – healed you, rescued you – go in peace.”
So Jesus was coming to Jerusalem that Palm Sunday to establish a kingdom and transform how they understood their political oppression, to offer a new kind of freedom from the Romans, but based on a new kind of freedom from slavery to sin. He knew they ought to have meant: “Save us, Savior, from our sins.” For a few of us in this room that means, for the first time, recognizing that we are sinners, that we have put ourselves ahead of God, which is rebellion, and put ourselves ahead of others to their harm, not just once or accidentally, but time after time. Like the woman at Jesus’ feet, or Peter in the boat or so many others, we are sinners in need of forgiveness, of rescue.
On Palm Sunday we see a savior who rescues not by military conquest but by self-sacrifice: he becomes the offering for our sins and his blood pays our price. When we respond in faith, when we turn and believe and trust in Him, we receive that forgiveness. As Jesus said to the woman, your faith has saved you.
But it is not only in that moment of salvation that we cry out. As we walk through this broken, sinful and perverse world, we face many trials and temptations, from national events to family events to health and finances, to characteristic sins in which our old sinful nature strives against the Holy Spirit. In all those cases we can do nothing better than to cry out ‘Save us, O God of our salvation. Rescue us and give us freedom”
Nerin Gun’s imagined speech to the first GI at Dachau could well be our prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus on this Palm Sunday, as we imagine his humble progress up the road to Jerusalem. “We will never forget those first few seconds. Even those of us who have died since you freed them must have carried with them into the other world the memory of that unique, magnificent moment of your arrival. We had prayed, we had waited, we had lost all hope of ever seeing you, but you had finally come, Messiah from across the seas. You had come at the risk of your life, into an unknown country, for the sake of unknown people, bringing us the most precious thing in the world, the gift of freedom.”