Hibiscus Flower

Hosanna? What Does That Mean?

At this time of year, many followers of Jesus commemorate what is known as Palm Sunday.  (The corresponding events in Jesus’ life can be found in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19).  While we can certainly study and celebrate these events at any time of the year, being able to join with others in doing so during the same season is joyful, too.

If you haven’t had a pastor, study guide, friend, or footnote explain it to you, though, there’s a term used in this account that might sound foreign to many readers and listeners.  Let’s take a look at part of the account as recorded by the gospel-writer Mark:

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,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Mark 11:8‭-‬10 NIV


So, what is this word, “hosanna“?  It definitely sounds like a “church word” (something used by Christians that isn’t part of common speech), but it was a more typical word in the first century.

Comparing translations and their footnotes, we find that “hosanna” is Aramaic (which makes sense, given that was a normal language in this region and timeframe), and that it means “Save” or “Save now”, or “Save, we pray”.

Indeed, the first-century Israelites were in need of being saved.  After all, they under the oppression of the Roman Empire (having Roman soldiers occupying the land, and being required to pay taxes to their own people who had purchased taxation contracts from the government).  To add to this, they had been promised – by God, no less – that a savior was coming.  When Jesus rides into town, fulfilling a prophecy, they were justifiably excited.  Freedom was near!

Even in English, we might not use those phrases ourselves.  (Seriously, when was the last time you heard someone say, “Save, we pray” in normal conversation?).  However, we are definitely familiar with this concept.  We need help – often – and we seek it in different ways.  Do any of these resonate with you?

  • Princess Leia sending a message in the astromech droid, R2-D2, in the movie Star Wars: A New Hope, “Help me Obi-Wan.  You’re my only hope.”
  • A victim tied to railroad tracks in an old silent movie, where the dialogue card says, “Help!  Save me!”.
  • A homeowner trying to figure out how to fix a leaky pipe, searching the Internet for “how to fix a faucet”, or “plumbers near me”.
  • A person who is at the end of their rope, distraught, unable to see a path forward, and with no other options, crying out, “Help me, God!”

We all need help, and each of us – even those of us who are too proud – typically know how to ask for help.  Like those along the path (when Jesus rode into Jerusalem all those years ago), we may have suffered greatly.  We may have confirmed – through empirical evidence – that we are not able to help ourselves.  Also like those people, we may have been searching a long time for help.

The important thing in getting help, though, is to ask for it from a source that can actually do something about it.  Obi-Wan Kenobi did play a part in rescuing Princess Leia.  Heroes in silent movies did save the victim (usually just in time).  An internet search can provide a good tutorial on plumbing, or find someone who is skilled at the trade.

In addition, God hears those who call out to Him, and He is all-powerful to save them.  However, there are key differences from the other examples: God is also all-knowing (unlike movies), and all-wise (definitely unlike the Internet), while also being perfectly holy and loving (unlike most movies and the Internet at large).  As a result, God knows when being rescued, saved, or helped in exactly the way that we are asking isn’t the best approach.  Sometimes, there is a more important issue that needs to be addressed, or a better plan to solve the problem (compared to what we have thought up so far).

As a simple example: if our friend [jokingly] suggests that we pull any tooth that hurts, and we follow that literally, we’re going to be toothless eventually.  A dentist – being wiser than our friend – knows how to treat the pain and may be able to save our teeth.

In the same way, the “fans” of Jesus during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem were probably seeking freedom from the Roman Empire, so that they could be self-governing again.  However, God knew that they needed something else, even more desperately.  They needed to be restored into a healthy family relationship with their Creator (i.e., God Himself).  These first-century Israelites were participating in a repeated cycle of animal sacrifices to pay for their sins, but those could never fully take care of the sin problem (see Hebrews 10:1-4), where human choices to rebel against God created an eternal separation.

So, if we keep reading in any of the four gospels’ accounts (see the links at the start of this article), we find that Jesus did save people.  He didn’t free them from being subject to the Roman Empire as a nation.  Instead, those who followed Him made use of the Roman infrastructure – and the Greek language – to tell many people about salvation through Jesus, essentially leveraging these empires’ own achievements to refute their false gods.  With God’s wisdom, within a week’s time after entering Jerusalem, Jesus gave up His perfect life to save not only those who cheered Him on, but also us and everyone else in the world.

He saved us from the eternal consequences of our sinful decisions.  He saved us from a life of hopelessly trying to make up for what we’ve done wrong.  And, I think that He saved us from a life without real purpose and impact.

So, I encourage you to pray “Hosanna” to God today, or just “Save me, God!”.  Tell Him what you are struggling with and what you want to be saved from.  But then, we must not limit Him to only saving us in the exact way that we think of.  He might have a more dramatic rescue planned for us: one that will be far better for us (and for others around us), and leave us in far better shape than if He had just removed one problem from our lives.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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