From John Piper: Our mission is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, through Jesus Christ. Feel free to copy and share this message by following our lead in not selling it but by providing it freely to others. We ask that you share it in its entirety as is. For more information about our ministry visit our web pages at Desiring God Ministries or email us at DGM.
March 27, 1983
(Palm Sunday Evening)
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
I know one of the concerns of the children’s music ministry is that the children understand what they are singing and that they mean it. And I share that concern for our people. In a moment the choir will sing a song called, “Hosanna, Hosanna!” And after that we all will sing a song which begins: “Hosanna in the highest!” So I want to give a little lesson in Greek and Hebrew to make sure we all know what the New Testament means when it says in three different places, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt. 21:9,15), or “Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk. 11:9,10), or simply, “Hosanna!” (John 12:13).
You all know that the New Testament was first written in Greek and the Old Testament was first written in Hebrew. Wherever the word “hosanna” occurs in the New Testament do you know what the Greek word is? Right! It’s “hosanna.” All the English translators did was use English letters (h-o-s-a-n-n-a) to make the sound of a Greek word.
But if you look in a Greek dictionary to find what it means, you know what you find? You find that it is really not originally a Greek word after all. The men who wrote the New Testament in Greek did the same thing to a Hebrew word that our English translators did to the Greek word: they just used Greek letters (UNABLE TO DISPLAY GREEK CHARACTERS ) to make the sound of a Hebrew phrase ( UNABLE TO DISPLAY HEBREW CHARACTERS ). I know this sounds sort of complicated. But it’s really not. Our English word “hosanna” comes from a Greek word “hosanna” which comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na.
And that Hebrew phrase is found one solitary place in the whole Old Testament, Psalm 118:25, where it means, “Save, please!” It is a cry to God for help. Like when somebody pushes out off the diving board before you can swim and you come up hollering: “Help, save me” … “Hoshiya na!”
But something happened to that phrase, hoshiya na. The meaning changed over the years. In the psalm it was immediately followed by the exclamation: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The cry for help, hoshiya na, was answered almost before it came out of the psalmist’s mouth. And over the centuries the phrase hoshiya na stopped being a cry for help in the ordinary language of the Jews. Instead it became a shout of hope and exultation. It used to mean, “Save, please!” But gradually it came to mean, “Salvation! Salvation! Salvation has come!” It used to be what you would say when you fell off the diving board. But it came to be what you would say when you see the lifeguard coming to save you! It is the bubbling over of a heart that sees hope and joy and salvation on the way and can’t keep it in.
So “Hosanna!” means, “Hooray for salvation! It’s coming! It’s here! Salvation! Salvation!”
And “Hosanna to the Son of David!” means, “The Son of David is our salvation! Hooray for the king! Salvation belongs to the king!”
And “Hosanna in the highest!” means, “Let all the angels in heaven join the song of praise. Salvation! Salvation! Let the highest heaven sing the song!”
Picture a super bowl game, and (believe it or not) the Vikings are three points ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are on their own 35 and have no more time outs. There are two seconds remaining on the clock. The Vikings’ fans are going wild. The Steelers line up, fake a pass to the receivers on the left field line and run a wide sweep around the right end and the quarterback breaks into the open and heads down the right sideline — 40 – 45 – 50 – 45. The only hope for the Vikings is Willie Teal, the safety, cutting a diagonal across the field. And out of the Vikings’ grandstand come two kinds of Hosannas, the old kind and the new kind. One part of the crowd is yelling: “Catch him! Catch him, Willie!” (That’s the old Hosanna.) The other part of the crowd is yelling, “You got him! You got him, Willie!” (That’s the new Hosanna.) The word moved from plea to praise; from cry to confidence.
So when we sing “Hosanna” now, let’s make it very personal. Let’s make it our praise and our confidence. The Son of David has come. He has saved us from guilt and fear and hopelessness. Salvation! Salvation belongs to our God and to the Son! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
© COPYRIGHT 1983, 1998 John Piper.
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