Palm fronds rustled in the breeze. Dust swirled up from the dirt road as people flung down their coats to make a carpet. An air of expectancy hung around everyone as they strained to be the first to see their visitor.
And then came the hoofbeats – not of a majestic steed, but – of a donkey, of all things. And upon it sat the unassuming figure of a man in his thirties. Jesus of Nazareth.
Someone shouted out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And then the rest of the crowd took up this cry – “Hosanna in the highest!” It echoed off the walls of the city – a welcome song to Jerusalem, stirring up all its inhabitants with wonder.
“Who could this man be?” “Why does he merit such excitement?” “Why are the crowds flocking after him?”
Their reply was that this was the Prophet, the King, the one they had been waiting for. Hadn’t the Old Testament prophets predicted that He would come to save them? Wasn’t their time of foreign rule finally over? Wouldn’t He set up the Kingdom that had so long been promised? Wasn’t this worth all the celebration they could muster?
And yet only a few days later, the cries of joyous welcome melted into murderous condemnation. And the ones who sang his praises shouted for him to be slaughtered on a cross.
Why this turn-around? How could they have changed their minds so quickly? If Jesus was really the King, wouldn’t they have wanted to save His life, not assist Him to His death?
The answer is that Christ was the King they weren’t expecting.
Oh, they wanted a king all right. But they wanted a king who would change their circumstances, not their hearts.
When it became apparent that Christ wasn’t going to oppose the Roman government and set up His own kingdom, the people turned on Him with fury. They wanted Him to meet their expectations, and they weren’t willing to see that He came to accomplish something more important – the eternal salvation of their souls.
Don’t we do that with God sometimes? We expect Him to meet us on our terms, fulfill our desires in a specific way, and change our circumstances like we think He should.
We joyously welcome His presence when the sun is shining, our material blessings are arranged neatly, and everything seems in control. But as soon as things take a turn for the worse, our hosannas turn into accusations.
This is not the King we expected. We expected a King who would orchestrate all our life events exactly the way we want Him to. And all the while, we’re failing to see that this King has come to meet our deepest need – our need for heart transformation.
The cross was the last place they expected to see their King – but it was necessary to purchase their souls’ redemption before God. It was messy and horrifying and soul-anguishing – but this King knew He needed to endure it so that He could walk with them through every messy, horrifying, soul-anguishing thing they would ever encounter here on earth.
And because He conquered death – because He experienced it and rose over it, victorious – He has become the most worthy King we will ever need. He drank deep the cup of sorrows so that in our time of need, He could meet us there and bring us safely to the other side.
This is where the heart transformation takes place. It doesn’t happen on sunny, palm-tree lined roads. It happens on the Golgotha hill, on the darkest night, where tears run deep.
And our King knows this. He’s wise enough to know that our expectations are half-baked, a mere fraction of what we truly need in life. He’s patient enough to wait as we bare our frustrations over these unmet expectations. And He’s gracious enough to hold us in His arms as we realize our truest need for Him and His sanctifying work in our lives.
In the Old Testament, the word “Hosanna” meant, “Save, I pray.” In the New Testament, it was a special kind of respect for the one who saves. The crowds around Jerusalem thought that Jesus would save them from their Roman enemies. They had no idea that Jesus was about to die to save their souls for all eternity.
We, too, cry out in our prayers, “Save, I pray! Save me from this trial, save me from this heartbreak, save me from pain and discomfort.”
But Jesus, King of our hearts, in His all-loving wisdom, often has a better plan. A plan to save us from self-righteousness and self-reliance. To save us from a much worse circumstance we may never know about. To save us from being less holy and farther away from Him.
And when we surrender to this unexpected King of ours, we find the greatest peace and comfort in Him. We begin to see with His heavenly perspective. Our priorities shift, and our desires start to change. The cobwebs of misunderstanding are cleared away and the light of His grace dawns in our hearts.
That’s when His true purpose begins to be fulfilled in our lives and the heart transformation takes place.
So, don’t stop this Easter with the palm branches and picture-perfect expectations. Walk with the Savior all the way to the darkness of Calvary, remembering His true purpose for coming to earth so long ago. And when you emerge on the victorious side of Resurrection Sunday, your Hosanna will have the deepest meaning –
He has saved us from the pit of sin and hell – and that is worth the most rejoicing.