By Pastor Glenn Pease
We have all heard of Custer's last stand, the last of the Mohecans, famous last words, the last words of Jesus on the cross, and the Last Supper, but seldom have we ever heard of the last Sunday. That is what Palm Sunday was for Jesus. It was His last Sunday on earth in the body He was born with on the first Christmas. From the first Christmas to the last Sunday we deal with the life of Jesus in His earthly body. The next Sunday was Easter Sunday, and from then on we deal with Jesus in His eternal body.
So Palm Sunday is the last Sunday for Jesus in the flesh-in the flesh that could suffer and die. The paradox is that this last Sunday was the scene of so many firsts. It was different than any other day Jesus lived on earth.
It was the first time we ever see Jesus riding a donkey.
It was the first time we ever see Jesus proclaiming His kingship.
It was the first time we ever see people putting palms in His path.
It was the first time we ever see children singing His praises.
There are more firsts on this last Sunday, and we want to focus on one of them. It was on this last Sunday of His life that we see the word Hosanna used to praise Jesus. In fact, it is the first time in all the Bible the word is used, and it is never used again. It is an exclusive Palm Sunday word. It is used only 6 times in all the Bible, and all 6 are on Palm Sunday. It is the first and last time we ever see this word in God's Word.
In Matt. 21:9 the crowds of people ahead of Jesus and behind Him shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David." In Matt. 21:15 it is recorded that the children in the temple area shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David." This made the chief priests and the teachers of the law indignant. Marks Gospel gives us the whole chorus the people sang as the parade moved along. In Mark 11:9-10 we read, "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." Two times the word is used in this brief chorus. In John 12:13 we read, "They took palm branches and went out to meet Him shouting, Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!"
The most popular word on Palm Sunday which was sung by the masses and the children means save now! Or save, we pray thee! Or great salvation! It is the emotional cry of celebration. The Savior is here, praise God, save us now O Lord. It is not a word of pleading, but a word of praising, for the people feel they are part of the salvation the king is now bringing about in this public proclamation of His kingship. Even the children joined the Hosanna song. It is the only song of children we have in the life of Jesus. It was His last Sunday, and the first song of praise from the lips of children. Vaughn wrote,
Hark! How the children shrill and high
Their joys provoke the distant sky,
Where thrones and seraphims reply;
And their own angels shine and sing
In a bright ring
Such young, sweet mirth
Make heaven and earth
Join in a joyful symphony.
In Psa. 118:25 we read, "Oh Lord save us." The two Hebrew words here are the two words that form the word Hosanna. This Psalm is the Hosanna Psalm, for it was sung on the Feast of Tabernacles which was a day of great joy in Israel. It was equivalent to our Thanksgiving holiday. It was a day for a parade. Verse 27 says, "With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession." These branches came to be called "Hosannas." They became symbols of God's salvation. The Palm branch was a symbol of salvation, for the palm tree grew around an oasis. For a weary traveler in the desert the sight of a palm tree meant he was saved. It meant the water of life was near and now my life can be sustained.
It is of interest to note that it takes about 30 years for a palm tree to produce good fruit. Jesus was 33 and was about to bear fruit that would give life and pleasure with infinite potential. The palm was the perfect branch to symbolize what Jesus was about to do in giving His life for the world. The word Hosanna was the perfect word to celebrate the salvation He was about to provide. The Palm tree was carved on the beautiful panels inside the temple on the walls, and the door, and in Ezekiel's vision of the ultimate temple, Palm trees decorate the pillars and the walls, and the door. In Rev. 7:9 the greatest choir on record, with uncountable multitudes from every race and language sing the praises of God and the Lamb, and it says, "They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands." The Palm will be an everlasting symbol of praise for the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, who brought the water of life into the desert of this world, and saved us from a hopeless situation.
When all other vegetation is dead and shriveled in the hot desert sun, the palm is yet alive and flourishing, for it has a unique root that goes deeper and finds water which other plants cannot reach. Hosanna in the highest for our Savior who goes the deepest and can save us when all other sources of life are dried up. Little did they know how deep Jesus would have to go to save them. He would send his roots into the very depths of hell to save them. Their song was so appropriate, and their symbol was so perfect, but they could not imagine the depth to which Jesus would have to go to save them.
When God's ways go beyond our range of experience we tend to lose hope. These people had it right. The palm was the symbol of life in hard situations, but the cross was too hard to swallow, and even the disciples could not see a palm tree surviving such a drought. The cross was too deep for their faith. It was to become the great oasis of the Christian faith, but it was nothing but barren desert sand to these thirsty disciples who first had to endure it. The Hosanna praise died on their lips. The palms withered and were cast aside. The joy of the last Sunday did not last, for the leaders of Israel did more than rain on their parade. They took their king who was to save them, and nailed Him to a cross where it appeared He could not even save Himself.
Another paradox of Palm Sunday is, the message of it was perfectly fulfilled, but the people could not grasp it, and so they lost faith in their own symbols and praise. Hosanna they cried, and expected Jesus to be their saving King, but because He got to the throne by way of the cross they ceased their song for weeping. They waved their palms as symbols of a deep salvation in hard times, but when the cross faced them it was too hard, and they felt even the palm cannot go that deep to save. Palm Sunday is a symbol of the shallowness of faith in God's love and saving plan.
Anybody can praise Jesus when He is coming by in a parade, and the whole world seems to be on His side. The sky is blue and all is well. It is celebration time, so let's join the song. But what if the parade gets rained out, and the king gets arrested, and the whole party atmosphere collapses? Will we walk with Jesus through the valley too? Most will walk only on the plain, and that, if it doesn't rain. Praise will only be raised when the scenery is pleasing to the eyes. We will walk by sight, and then, only when the view is pleasant.
If the parade changes and Jesus is no longer on the donkey, but under the cross, and the crowd is no longer praising, but mocking, and Jesus is crowned with thorns, then count me out. I've got better things to do than follow a loser. Hosanna is only in my vocabulary when I follow a conquering king. Palm Sunday was the last Sunday Jesus was praised by the fickle faith of the crowd, until He proved He was alive after His resurrection. The praise stopped and all celebrations were cancelled because human faith could not follow Jesus to the depths.
There is a powerful lesson here for all of us, and a question we all have to ask ourselves is this: Are we parade praisers only, or are we perpetual praisers who believe God knows what He is doing, and so we do not stop praising just because the parade stops and the road gets rough. Anybody can be a parade praiser. You don't even need faith. You just look and see the glory of the parade and the king, and the crowd around, and you conform to the environment. The perpetual praiser has to have a real faith-a belief in a God who can bring good out of evil-a God who can take the hatred and ugliness of the cross and make it a symbol of love and beauty.
One Hosanna on Good Friday is worth a thousand Hosannas on Palm Sunday, for when sight says God has failed, that is when faith shines brightest and says, behind that dark cloud is a silver lining, and though I don't understand the ways of God, I'll trust Him until this seeming defeat is shown to be a victory. Palm Sunday joy and praise was real and sincere, but it was not deep enough, and that is one of its lessons for us. Don't stop praising God when the parade is over and the crowds are gone. In the dark and lonely hours of life you can truly be a person of praise, for then you praise the Lord for Himself, and not just for what you get out of it.
Merlin Carothers became famous writing books about the need to praise God perpetually no matter how hard life gets. He has hundreds of amazing illustrations in his books. Let me share one from his book Power In Praise.
"Once a Christian sergeant brought a soldier from his platoon
to my office. The soldier was facing a dishonorable discharge
and a prison term for using and dealing in drugs. He'd been an
addict since his early teens, and the time he spent in the army
had only made matters worse. He had served in Vietnam where
dope was as easy to come by as chewing gum.
"I've made a mess of my life, and its too late to change," he
said. The look in his eyes was dark and desperate.
"What about God?" I asked. "He's got the power to change
The soldier shrugged.
"Why should he," he said. "I've never done anything for Him."
"He loves you," I said. "He sent Jesus to take the punishment
for everything you've ever done. He can heal you, too."
The soldier looked glum.
"I've heard about Jesus," he said. "I'd like to ask Him to be my
Savior, but I don't think it will do any good now. I can't stop using dope
no matter how hard I try. I've been a junkie too long."
"God can heal," I said confidently. "Don't you think He is more
powerful than dope?"
The soldier looked doubtful.
"Are you willing to try Him?" I asked. The soldier nodded.
"I'll try anything," he said. "I want to get out of the hell I'm in
"Then thank God right now for what He's going to do for you in
next few minutes, and thank Him for everything that has happened in
your life to bring you to this spot!"
"Now wait a minute!" The soldier looked upset. "You mean I'm
supposed to thank God for everything in my life up to now, even that
I'm an addict?"
"It's your addiction that brings you to Him, isn't it?" I said. "If
God heals you, and gives you a brand-new, eternal life with Jesus, don't
you think you can thank Him for everything that made you see you
The dark look of doubt was still in the soldier's eyes.
"Will you let me pray for you?" I asked, and he nodded.
I placed my hands on his head. "Dear Heavenly Father, "
I prayed. "Thank you for loving this boy and drawing him to
you. Now send your Holy Spirit to help him believe that you've
been working in every dark and lonely moment of his life to
bring him to Christ."
When I finished there was a new light in the soldier's eyes.
"It is very strange," he said, "but for some reason I really
do believe that God has taken everything bad that ever happened
to me and is working it for my good."
He began to praise God, and his life was changed by the power of praise. The point of all Carothers writings is that the bad stuff of life will either cause us to stop praising God so that we are strictly Palm Sunday type people, or it will motivate us to praise Him more, knowing He can use even the bad stuff to make us more Christlike. It is good to be a Palm Sunday praiser, but it is best to be a Good Friday praiser, for a Good Friday praiser is a perpetual praiser. Even when the sky is dark and the cross is heavy, Good Friday faith is still shouting, "Hosanna, save us now Lord."
We live in a Palm Sunday type culture. It was not always this way. The Pilgrims and the early Christians of America thanked and praised God for their blessings and freedom, and for the joy of their salvation, even when things were terribly hard. This nation was founded by people with Good Friday faith. But we have come a long way, and now we are Palm Sunday people. Success and wealth always does this to God's people. The Palm Sunday Syndrome has always been a problem for God's people. Spurgeon had the same battle in his day in the last century in England. Christians were excited about success more than about obedience to God. Spurgeon wrote,
Today most of us are enamored with success. We have
a success complex. Perhaps you are asking, what is wrong
with success? That depends upon your definition. Only
God's conception of success is valid. The world's ideal
of success is short-lived. "I have seen the wicked in great
power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he
passed away, and lo, he was not: yeah, I saw him, but he
could not be found" (Psa. 37:35-36). "Love not the world,
neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the
world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in
the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and
the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And
the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth
the will of God abideth forever" (I John 2:15,17).
Success in God's eyes is doing His will. For Jesus this meant the parade and the praise of His name would end, and He would have to endure the mockery and rejection of people, and the crucifixion. For Moses doing the will of God meant pleading with Pharaoh, and doing miracles of great wonder, and yet still having it all rejected, and Pharaoh refusing to let God's people go. Obedience meant enduring failure. The obedient life is not always a perpetual Palm Sunday. It has its ups and downs, and you might find yourself like Joseph, in prison, or like Jesus who had no place to lay His head. You may just end up being run out of town, or stoned, or thrown into prison, like Paul and Peter and many other saints.
The danger of being a Palm Sunday type praiser is that you will expect life to be always like Palm Sunday, and this is where you will fall. When life gets hard and it takes real faith you will be crushed and ceased to praise. You have lifted up success as your idol, and when it crumbles you suffer loss of faith. Wise is the Christian who does not idolize success, for when life changes and failure seems to be the theme there will no problem shouting Hosanna, for it will be all the more needed then. Like Paul and Silas in the dark and damp dungeon, they can keep on singing the praises of God. That is the Bible picture of success. That is Good Friday praising.
Let me say it once more. Palm Sunday praise is not bad. It is good, but it is, by itself, far short of the ideal, and even superficial if it cannot survive the going down of the sun. A praise that only works on solar energy, that is a daylight praise, is not a Biblical ideal. It has to work after sundown and in the dark, or your spirit of praise is man made and not of the Spirit. Holy Spirit praise is perpetual. It is the kind of praise we see in many of the Psalms where the mood is negative. They say, I hate the way life is going; I weep over my circumstances, and I cry out for change, but meanwhile I trust in you Lord, and praise you, for I know that in the end I will be a winner by being faithful to you.
This is the highest praise, for it is the praise of love and faith. It is not praise for the things I have in which I can see and feel. It is praise that goes beyond the self-centered to the God-centered. Anyone can be happy when the self is pleased. Carlyle once said, "You may hear it said of me that I am cross-grained and disagreeable. Dinna believe it. Only let me have my own way exactly in everything with all about me precisely as I wish, and a sunnier or pleasanter creature does not exist." He could have joined the Palm Sunday crowd and shouted Hosanna with the best of them, but his shallow faith would not have survived Good Friday. A faith that cannot take a cross is doomed to failure.
Blessed is the man or woman who can say with Job, "When he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold." It takes a Holy Spirit faith to see gold in the fire of trials, and to believe the words of Spurgeon who said, "Sainthood springs out of suffering. It takes 11 tons of pressure on a piano to tune it. God will tune you to harmonize with Heaven's key note if you can stand the strain.
Things that hurt and things that mar
Shape the man for perfect praise;
Shock and strain and ruin are
Friendlier than the smiling days.
The message of Palm Sunday that we need to heed is that singing Hosanna is not enough. We need to cry out to Jesus, "Save now-be my King, Savior, Lord, and Deliverer now, in the dark and hard Good Friday like times." Every Christian has his or her Good Friday periods of life when they feel all is going wrong and they are God forsaken. That is when they need to sing praises, and thank God. It is good to do it when you feel like it. It is better yet to do it when you don't feel like it. When life is not fair, and you feel like no one cares, that is when the wise Christian is praising the Lord and singing Hosanna.