Published April 12, 2011

Paul's Epistle...

What does that word – "Hosanna" – actually mean?

As Jesus made his way into Jerusalem on what later would become known as Palm Sunday, the multitudes of people lining the route shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" And, "Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11: 9,10).

That word — used in the Bible only six times and only in the New Testament — actually does have considerable significance. First, it is more than just "Hooray!" which is the way one contemporary English version of the Bible translates Hosanna. (That's a pity because it destroys all connection to the actual original meaning.)

So what does it mean? It's a prayer, actually. Perhaps "an urgent plea" would be an even better way to put it. The word "Hosanna," transliterated from the original Hebrew, means, "Save, we pray!"

Before this climactic journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had been traveling through the countryside teaching, preaching and healing, attracting quite a following. People began to notice Him and think that maybe, just maybe, this was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. So, they called upon Him to save them – to be their Savior.

But the Savior they were looking for wasn't exactly the kind of Savior Jesus came to be, at least this time. The people wanted a Messiah, a Savior, who would free them from their foreign overlords, to boot out the Romans and reestablish an independent Jewish nation. And they saw in Jesus someone who just might have enough gravitas to pull it off.

There is some irony here that doesn't come through in our English translations of the Bible. As you may know, the name "Jesus" is not what His contemporaries would have called Him. They knew Him as Yeshua. That Hebrew name means "The Lord's Salvation" or "The Lord Who Is Salvation."

We get a hint of this in Matthew 1:21 when the angel appears to Joseph to tell him what's about to happen to Mary: "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [Yeshua], for He will save His people from their sins..." In English the "for He will save" expression lacks any logical connection with the intended antecedent — why He would be named Jesus. But the Hebrew speaker knew immediately what the connection was – "the Lord's Salvation" would "save His people..."

It's amazing that the people who lined Jesus' route into Jerusalem on that day shouting "Yeshua, Hosanna!" were actually shouting the equivalent of "Salvation of the Lord – save us!" What an interesting play on words. But probably no one there – other than the Lord Himself – really had any idea how significant that plea would be.

Even today, each of us must have a "hosanna" moment in our life. Each of us must call out to the Lord, "hosanna" – "save me!" That is, after all, Yeshua's entire purpose in coming to earth – "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).

Have you done it? Have you made that call? If so, praise the Lord! If not, make today the day. Then you'll experience Holy Week – remembering the Lord's death on the Cross and His triumphant resurrection on the third day – in a more powerful and glorious way than ever before. And you'll never be the same.

- Paul

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