Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | April 7, 2009

Palm Sunday Sermon (2009)


“Hosanna!” & “Crucify!”

Text: Mark 11:8-10 & 15:11-14


Today Jesus is a kingly hero.  Friday he will be a divine scapegoat.  Today the crowds joyfully shout, “Hosanna!”  Friday the crowds will hatefully shout, “Crucify!”  Today he enters Jerusalem with praises and in triumph.  Friday he will be led out of the city with jeers and in humiliation.  Today he looks like a king.  Friday he will look like a criminal.  What a difference just a few days makes!

Several years ago, I came across the suggestion that the crowds jeering at Jesus on Good Friday were basically the same people cheering for him on Palm Sunday.  The theory might seem credible at first.  Large amounts of Jewish Pilgrims were coming to Jerusalem for the Passover.  Perhaps they were caught up in “groupthink,” praising Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah on Sunday and then calling for his execution when he didn’t turn out to be the kind of Messiah they were hoping for.  Perhaps there were a few carry-overs from the Palm Sunday crowd to the Good Friday crowd, but chances are the Palm Sunday crowds were not the same bunch as the Good Friday mob.

Given the stark difference between the two groups, I find a certain irony in the main words that each crowd shouted out.  On Sunday the crowds sang their joyous Hosannas, and on Friday they scream out with a blood-curdling call for crucifixion.  But if you boil down the chants of the two crowds, you will find an ironic similarity between the two statements.  You wouldn’t expect it, but “Hosanna!” and “Crucify!” are two different words with the very same message.


Listen again to the end of the Palm Sunday account from Mark chapter 11.  “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!'”

new-testament-illustrations-035There is such a tone of excitement in the air!  The crowd probably numbered in the thousands, and they treat Jesus like a king.  The people turn their cloaks into a royal red carpet for the coming king.  They greet him with branches that they ran to gather from the countryside.  These are actions that indicated that Jesus was no ordinary person in their eyes.  He was like royalty.

“Hosanna” was the motto of this crowd.  It’s a Hebrew word that literally means, “Save us, please!”  Combine their Hosannas with the Psalm 118 quotations chanted by the crowd, and you would think that they understood who Jesus was and what he was about to accomplish during the Passover.  It sounds like they understood that Jesus had come to save them — “Hosanna!”  But in reality, the word “Hosanna” had probably lost its meaning.  It was just a special term expressing praise.  Perhaps they praised him for his great miracles.  Perhaps they put false hope in him as some sort of political or earthly Savior.  But the odds are that they — much like Jesus’ own inner circle of apostles — did not fully understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was and what Jesus had come to save them from.  Odds are that the crowd’s words and praises were far more empty than we would care to admit.

Empty words?  Praise lacking real substance?  Some things have not changed in the church, have they?  You might suspect that your liturgically minded pastor would have a thing or two to say about empty “praise services” which are not praise at all because they are emotion without substance.  But that would be preaching to the choir, and the choir of Christians gathered here this morning probably needs to be warned and rebuked about empty ritualism.  We need to be warned against doing the “rite” thing for the wrong reason.

Our Lutheran liturgical service is a treasure.  Every week its substance comforts us.  Every week we come before God as spiritual beggars, dirty and dingy, dying of sin.   And every week, Christ absolves us.  Every week the Word of God strengthens our faith.  Every week we hear about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Every week we have the opportunity to come to this altar and personally receive our Lord’s forgiveness, sealed and given to us with Christ’s own body and blood.

But our rich rituals can easily degenerate into rote ritualism.  Don’t misunderstand.  The problem isn’t our way of worship.  The problem is our sinful nature.  We can recite the confession of sins, speak the Apostles’ Creed, pray the Lord’s Prayer and sing all the canticles and maybe even some of the hymns from memory, with vigor and enthusiasm — at least, outwardly.  But what happens after our Sunday morning bursts of praise are finished?  We go back into our homes and lives, and sometimes the name of Jesus isn’t heard for another week, or the only time Jesus’ name is heard is to curse.  We talk the talk on Sunday, but have we walked the walk?  Has Christ been the center of my life, my marriage, my family, and my vocation?  You know the answer.  Even our best attempt is a miserable failure.  Even on our best day, our sinful thoughts and words and actions speak a message of their own.  They speak the message that we would really rather see Christ out of the picture than in our lives.  But God has his own message for us.  Because of our sinful thoughts and words and actions, God demands our death, for empty rituals and unlived creeds will merit you nothing short of hell.


The Palm Sunday crowd’s failure to fully understand Jesus is disappointing, but far worse is the Good Friday crowd’s rabid desire to oust Jesus from their population altogether. “The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.  ‘What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked them.  ‘Crucify him!’ they shouted.  ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate.  But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!'”

new-testament-illustrations-043What a difference five days made!  An interesting point in the original Greek of verse 11 is that the crowd wanted Barabus released to them or for them.  The chief priests actually convinced the crowd that it would be more beneficial for them to get a notorious criminal released than to have the only innocent man who ever lived set free.  This was worse than a riot.  This was insanity!  They had been worked up into a frothy foam to the point that they demanded that Pilate give a death sentence to an innocent man.

Gutless though he was, Pilate tried to be the voice of reason, at least for a moment.  He asked them if Jesus had done anything remotely resembling evil, but they didn’t care about that.  Pilate’s suggestion that they did not have just cause for their request only got the crowd more worked up than before.  These people didn’t want to hear Pilate’s objections.  They didn’t want to be confused by the facts.  Things got out of control.  They were so out of control that it appeared that Pilate was about to have a riot on his hands.  His objections only added more fuel to the fire, and the only way Pilate thought he could put out this fire was to give in to the crowd’s demands and turn Jesus over to die.

And yet something ironic happened because of the crowd’s insistent chanting.  Five days earlier the Palm Sunday crowd shouted, “Hosanna!” which means “Save us, please!”  Now, the Good Friday crowd shouts “Crucify!”  And that Good Friday call for Jesus’ crucifixion answered the Palm Sunday cry for salvation.  Jesus was crucified, and because he was crucified, the world was given a Savior.  The Palm Sunday Hosannas were answered, because Jesus was not some sort of martyred religious rebel.  Pilate’s conclusion already pointed out who Jesus was.  He was completely innocent.  He had done no evil, nothing of the sort.  Ever since our first parents fell into sin, no person has walked on this earth and lived a flawless life — except Christ.  There is the innocent Son of God, fulfilling the Hosanna cries, and offering his life on the cross because of the other crowd’s cries for his crucifixion.

Isn’t it amazing how the Good Friday crowd could detest Jesus so feverishly?  But isn’t it just as amazing that he stands there, the almighty and omnipotent Son of God, and submits to death, even death on a cross?  But that is exactly what he does!  He is crucified.  And by his death, he paid the price and penalty that God’s law demands from every person in that Good Friday crowd then, every person in the Palm Sunday crowd then, and every person in the Palm Sunday crowd here this morning.


You and I will sing our Hosannas in just a few moments.  As we progress through the Holy Communion portion of the service, we will join our voices to those of the Palm Sunday crowd and sing “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  And the Lord hears that cry in which we ask him to save us.  He has already heard that cry and has already answered that cry.  The King of glory who entered into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday was our humbled king who allowed himself to be crucified for us.  The King of glory who received the praises of the people today was our humbled king who suffered for our sin and endured hell for us.  And our humbled king who laid down his life for us now reigns as the King of glory who took back his life to secure our eternal life with him.

The Palm Sunday Gospel and Passion Gospel might sound at first like they are clashing stories that don’t belong in the same service.  But these are two themes that come together every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  We sing our Hosannas — “Save us, please!” — in preparation for the Lord’s Supper.  Then, as the service progresses, we advance forward to Maundy Thursday, as we hear the Words of Institution in which Jesus establishes his Supper for our continual benefit and blessing.  And finally, just before we come forward to the altar, we sing about the Lamb of God who took away our sin by his Good Friday cross.  Palm Sunday and Good Friday come together each time we celebrate Holy Communion.  It’s really no surprise, because the message of both days, and even the contrasting message of the crowds on both days, really carry the same thought.  Jesus, Lamb of God, Hosanna!  Save us, for you take away the sin of the world.  Amen.



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