You’re on vacation. The welcome sign as you drive into town reads, “Save us.” The hotel clerk, the restaurant server, the greeter and employee at every place you visit greets you with “Save us.” It’s not the most pleasant-sounding vacation, is it?
In John 12, this is how the Jerusalem crowd greets Jesus – “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us.” Hosanna here is shout of praise, said with excitement and anticipation. Many of our own hymns express the same thing. Save us! Revive us! Show us your mercy and grace! Psalm 118 and the prophet Zechariah get thrown in the mix. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Don’t be afraid! Your king comes to you riding on a donkey!” They’re singing and praising Jesus because he’s the miracle worker, the healer, the one who raises the dead. His arrival at Jerusalem is truly good news!
But once we peel back the layers of praise, something dire and tragic is underneath. If the words “Save us” are being uttered at all, something has gone very wrong. Jesus is greeted by a crowd that knows their need for rescue. They know things have gone wrong. They know they can’t save themselves.
This crowed has two components, one having come with Jesus from Bethany, and one having already arrived in Jerusalem ahead of Jesus. They’re not in competition with each other. They’re both singing the same song and identifying Jesus in the same way – the king of Israel. It can be a little exhausting to speak of Jesus as king. There are a lot ways we must qualify what we mean by that. Jesus is not simply the best version of what we’ve always assumed a king is supposed to be. Jesus takes all our assumptions of what “king” means and turns them on their heads (for starters, like coming to Jerusalem on a donkey, not a chariot). John is careful to show us that Jesus finally embraces his role as king at the same time everyone is buzzing about the resurrection of Lazarus. He’s not king who conquers. He’s a king who gives life. This is what Zechariah was talking about. The king God truly wants
for his people is not the one who displays the most power, but the one who heals.
The Pharisees are present, too. They have no reverence or praise in them, only cynicism and disgust. The only thing they will offer up at this point is a cynical reminder for one another: “You can do nothing; look, the whole world has gone after him.” The Gospel of John is like a spy story – the lonely, vulnerable protagonist swept up in controversy and conspiracy (John 11:53), unsure of who he can trust (2:23-25) and moving about in secrecy (7:10). Now comes the part of that story where the conspirators realize they’ve lost. They couldn’t control the narrative against Jesus. In spite of their best efforts, he’s won the world over.
If you’re perfectly comfortable in this world, like these Pharisees, then Jesus is not for you. But he is king for those who know how badly they need salvation, who can never quite get comfortable in this world, who know that something is wrong and needs to be righted. Out of those hearts arise the cry, Hosanna!
How comfortable are we? Is there an itch, a hunger that’s bubbling up into the words, “Save us”? If so, here is your king, the one who will use his power to heal, to bring the dead to life. Let’s celebrate that that’s who the real king of the world is. Let “Hosanna!” be a shout of praise because we truly believe that Jesus is not only capable but eager to save. And let’s give no one else, no other source of comfort our love and praise.