Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. (Mark 11:9b)
As prophesied by Zechariah, Jesus humbly rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey. On that Palm Sunday the people repeatedly cried out, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. This was apparently a united chorus, as Mark records that both those that went before and those who followed after Jesus were chanting this sacred text. It was indeed a sacred text, for it was drawn from the Psalm that, arguably, was the most chanted Psalm of the Jews—Psalm 118. This Psalm was repeatedly chanted by God’s people at every festival, but uniquely the common people were privileged to join with the Levites in chanting portions of this Psalm when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed.
If you read through Psalm 118 you will no doubt find the words, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (v 26a). However you will likely not find the word “Hosanna” in your English Bible. It is nonetheless at the beginning of verse 25, and most translators rightly translate it, “Save now.” When the Gospel writers recorded Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on that first day of Holy Week, they chose to keep the Hebrew Hosanna in their text. No doubt this was done to emphasize the importance and meaning of the word: “Save now;” but also to draw attention to it being a quote from Psalm 118.
The Jews were—rightly so—obsessed with salvation. They were obsessed because they knew that the salvation of the world was to come from the Jews (Jn 4:24). They thus frequently endowed their sons with names that had “salvation” as their root. The great prophets Isaiah and Hosea had names having the Hebrew word for salvation as their root. However, the most common Jewish name that directed people to the theme of God’s salvation was “Joshua” (roughly “Yashwa”). When spoken in the English language this name is “Jesus,” which means “God saves.” Recall that our Lord’s foster father Joseph was directed to name Mary’s baby “Jesus,” for, as explained by the angel, He would save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). Mary’s son was appropriately given the name Joshua (Jesus) both because He is God, and because He saves mankind; God saves. There were so many boys named “Joshua” (Jesus) at that time that Jesus the Savior had to be identified as “Jesus (Joshua) of Nazareth.”
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem the Jewish people—certainly not realizing the profundity of what they were saying—called out “Save now” (Hosanna), and they addressed this chant to the man whose name means, “God saves.” In effect they were calling out, “O man whose name means God saves, save now.” Within a few days (Friday), Jesus would be hanging upon the cross, and once again the people spoke of salvation, but they spoke of it in doubt and mockery as they jeered at Jesus’ apparent inability to save Himself: They called out, Save yourself, and come down from the cross [Mk 15:30; see also v 31]. As Jesus was dying to save mankind the people were tauntingly calling out a “hosanna”—“save now.” In order to save us He would not save Himself. This was the great exchange…denying salvation for Himself in order to earn it for us. Strangely, “hosanna” was happening there at the cross, for at that very hour—“now”—He was saving, saving not Himself but saving mankind. In His death and resurrection Jesus was fulfilling the prediction of Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He is rejected as He is mercilessly crucified, and He becomes the cornerstone when He rises from the grave. The Palm Sunday request, Hosanna (save now), would then be fulfilled!
But it does not end there. As the Gospel of Mark draws to a close Jesus informs His followers that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved (16:16). Truly for each of us Hosanna—save now—happens uniquely when we believe and are baptized. Every time a person is brought forward for Baptism, the congregation is sincerely calling out, “Hosanna”—“save now.” Finally at every Christian funeral, survivors are asking our Lord in faith, “Hosanna”—“save now.” In Christ they are saved.