‘Hosanna!’ (Matthew 21:1-11)

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One week out from Easter, on a day we know as Palm Sunday, Christians commemorate an event in Jesus’ life which points towards the culmination of his ministry. Jesus entered Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, and as we read in Matthew 21:1-11, a very large crowd gathered to welcome him. they lay their outer garments and tree branches on the road in front of him as Jesus rode on a donkey. Then the crowd acknowledged Jesus as the heir of King David who would come to save them by shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9 NIV)

This word Hosanna has been used in lots of different Christian songs and hymns over the centuries, particularly in those written for Palm Sunday or which acknowledge Jesus as King. But what does it mean? Like a lot of words we can use in Christian conversations, songs, hymns and worship, it can be good for us to give some thought to its meaning and why we use it.

Literally Hosanna means, ‘Save!’ It is used in Psalm 118:25 to ask God to send his Messiah to liberate his people and give them ‘success’ (NIV) in all they did. When the people of Jerusalem used it to welcome Jesus to their city, they were using this ancient term to point to him as the one who would save them by freeing them from tyranny and restoring them as the people of God.

When I think about how we use the word ‘save’ in our place and time, there are aspects to its meaning which can help us understand more about what the word Hosanna means for us. For example, as I wrote this message out on my computer, I will regularly ‘save’ my work so I don’t lose it but can keep it to send out to you. When I go to the beach to swim, there might be a ‘life-saver’ to look out for me and rescue me when I get into trouble. When I go to the shops, I will generally look for specials so I can ‘save’ some money off my grocery bill.

However, most of the time when I hear the word ‘save’ I tend to think about money boxes. These are boxes of various shapes and sizes which we can use to save our money, especially our coins or small change. We save coins in money boxes because they are valuable to us. We save them because we might not want other people in our household from taking them from us. We might also save them because, when we add them to other loose change we have saved in our money box, they become part of something greater than themselves and are able to purchase something more expensive than if they had remained on their own.

The main way Christians often think about being ‘saved’ is going to heaven when we die. I wonder, though, when we sing Hosanna this Palm Sunday, we might be calling on Jesus to save us in ways that aren’t too different from the ways we can save our coins.

Like my coins, when we call Hosanna, Jesus saves us because we are valuable to him. 1 Peter 1:18-19 tells us that God didn’t save us with perishable things like silver or gold, but with ‘the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God’ (NLT). Jesus rode into Jerusalem to save us because we are worth more to God than all the silver and gold in the world. God gives the most valuable thing he has, the life of his own Son, to make us his own because that’s what you are worth to him. When we cry Hosanna, Jesus saves us because to him we are worth it.

Like my coins, when we call Hosanna, Jesus also saves us because he wants to keep us safe. Especially during this time when our church buildings are closed, we’re practising social distancing and we are isolated from each other, it is good for us to trust that Jesus saves us to keep us safe. Whether we are afraid of how COVID-19 might affect us or our loved ones, we are anxious about the future, or feeling lonely and disconnected from others, Jesus keeps us safe by embracing us in his resurrection love and surrounding us with the light of his good news. It doesn’t mean the we won’t have problems or suffering in life, but when they do come, we can be confident that they won’t overcome us and we have Jesus’ resurrection life in us. When we cry Hosanna, Jesus saves us by keeping us safe.

Like my coins, when we call Hosanna, Jesus saves us by making us a part of something bigger than ourselves. Jesus rode into Jerusalem as King, not of a temporary, earthly kingdom, but of the eternal Kingdom of God. Jesus makes us part of his Kingdom which includes all people who are saved from every time and every place. This is the family of God, the body of Christ, the community of God’s holy people, the Christian Church. As we face a period of isolation because of the COVID-19 virus, we are never truly alone. God brings us into community with other believers so we can encourage each other, build each other up in faith and love, strengthen each other and walk with each other until God brings us through this time and we can be physically present with each other again. When we cry Hosanna, Jesus saves us by making us citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, his living, breathing body on earth.

This Palm Sunday, what does it mean to you to be saved? A greater sense of self-worth? Being kept safe from things that might take life from you? Being part of something bigger than ourselves, even while we might be isolated or alone? Or it might mean something different. Jesus rode into Jerusalem as God’s chosen King who comes to us here and now to give us his saving help. Where do you need his saving help in your life?

As we sing Hosanna, Jesus comes to save us all…

More to think about & discuss:

  • When you read this story, what questions do you have?
  • How do you understand what it means to be ‘saved’?
  • When we think about being saved like coins in a money box, what connects more with where you are in your life: Jesus giving you value, keeping you safe or connecting you to something bigger than yourself? Or something else? Explain why…
  • How might trusting that you are a saved child of God help you see what you are going through right now a bit differently?

Worship Fully (Isaiah 2:1-5)

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A few months ago I was discussing with the small group leaders of our congregation what we might be able to look at as we entered the Advent season leading up to Christmas. One of the suggestions was the Advent Conspiracy. This resource uses the four weeks of Advent to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth by challenging participants to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. After looking at the Advent Conspiracy material, we decided to give it a go this year and begin to re-imagine how we might celebrate Christmas differently by putting Jesus’ birth at the centre of everything we did.

Last Sunday we began Advent by looking at what it means to Worship Fully. I find that any discussion about worship is challenging because it seems like everyone has an opinion on how, when and where Christians should or should not worship. We all have personal preferences about just about every aspect of worship such as the styles of music we sing, whether we have a formal, responsive liturgy or not, and a whole lot of other things. Personally speaking, I get concerned whenever people start voicing their opinions about worship because most of the time it is very easy to miss the point of what worship is supposed to be all about.

The word worship comes from an Old English word which can mean to give someone or something worth or value. The things we value most in life, then, can become the objects of our worship. That might be God or some other deity, but it might also be our material possessions, our relationships, our work or even our favourite sporting team. Usually, we value these things because we look for our own sense of self-worth or value in them. For example, we might value our possessions because owning them might give us a sense of self-worth. We might value our relationships because they make us feel valued and significant. A lot of people value their work because it helps them feel useful and worthwhile. Belonging to a sporting club or supporting a team can help us feel like we belong and give us a purpose to our lives.

The problem comes when the things that we value and in which we look for value come to an end, are taken from us, or fail to give us what we hope for. When we look for our self-worth in the things we own, we can spend our lives trying to get more and more as newer and better versions of these possessions are produced. When we look for our value in our relationships, we can end up feeling worthless if those relationships end or become increasingly dysfunctional. I know a lot of people who struggle with their own self-worth when they lose their jobs, retire from full-time employment, or are too old to do the things they used to do. If we’re looking for our value in our sporting teams, what happens when they lose or don’t achieve what we hope they will?

To Worship Fully at Christmas is much more than singing Christmas carols or going to church. It challenges us to ask what we value most about Christmas and where we look for our self-worth at this time of year. For some, we might find our value in the giving or receiving of presents. It might be in the family dinner and the gathering of relatives. For others, it might be in the activity that goes on around a lot of churches during the festive season. There are lots of ways we can look for self-worth at Christmas in the things that we value most of all. As I said, the problem is whether or not they are able to give us a sense of self-worth if we lose them or they are taken away from us.

When we look for our value in Jesus, we can find a sense of self-worth which can’t be taken from us and which we will never lose. One way we can understand the meaning of Christmas is that God gave us the most precious gift he had, his only Son, because he thinks we’re worth it! God values each and every person so much that he enters into the reality of human existence by being born to a teenaged girl in Bethlehem. God’s plan is to rescue us from our superficial and flawed attempts at finding our self-worth in the things we own, the things we do, or the people we are trying to be by giving us a value that can’t be calculated. God values us so much that he enters our lives and unites himself with us in Jesus. He takes our sin and brokenness to the cross because he values us more than we will ever understand in this world. Jesus defeats death, overcomes the grave and rises from the dead to show us how precious we are to him. The entire plan of salvation, from Jesus’ birth to his death, resurrection and ascension all point us to the value God places on each and every person. God does everything that is necessary to give our lives value and meaning by accepting us as we are, adopting us as his children and welcoming us into a new relationship with him.

Basically, Jesus enters the world as an infant at Christmas to save us because he reckons we are worth saving!

When we find our value in Jesus and his birth, life, death and resurrection for us, it is natural for us to worship him – to give him worth for everything he has done, is doing and will continue to do for us. This is what it means to Worship Fully, especially at Christmas. We can find a deep and lasting sense of our self-worth, not in the decorations or presents or meals or any of the other superficial trappings of this time of year, but in God’s gift of himself to us in the baby Jesus. When we trust that God gives us a sense of self-worth in Jesus, then we can worship him fully by making the birth of Jesus the one thing we value most about the Christmas season.

What do you value most about the Christmas season? What might that say about where you look for your sense of value and self-worth? How might you celebrate Christmas differently with your family, friends or church community if you intentionally looked for your value in the birth of Jesus and then valued him most of all? The other things aren’t wrong or bad, but how might they look different if we valued Jesus most of all as we find our value in him?

When we find our self-worth in God’s gift of himself to us in Jesus, then we can worship him fully with our whole lives, not just at Christmas.

Finding the Lost (Luke 15:1-10)

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Jesus had a habit of upsetting the respectable, religious people of his day. We heard about one way he did is a couple of weeks ago when he healed a disabled woman on the Jewish day of rest. Here, in Luke 15:1-10, Jesus is doing it again. We read that he was welcoming tax collectors and sinners who came to hear what he had to say (v1). This upset the Pharisees and teachers of the law because they determined peoples’ value by how well they kept their religious rules. Jesus, however, used a completely different standard to measure people’s value.

We can see the way Jesus valued people in the stories about the lost sheep and coin in Luke 15:1-10, and the next story about the lost or prodigal son. Jesus didn’t determine people’s worth by what they did or how well they kept the rules. The point of the stories of the lost sheep and coin is that each and every one is valuable. The shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep because he values it, even though it is just one and he has another ninety-nine. In the same way, the woman swept her whole house and searched carefully for her one coin, and then celebrated when she found it with her friends and neighbours, because it was valuable to her.

In these stories, Jesus is teaching us that each and every person, no matter what their lives look like or how lost they might be, is so precious to God that he would enter into our world as one of us in Jesus to look for us, to seek for us, to search for us, to find us. And when he does, and when we turn back to God in faith, heaven parties like you wouldn’t believe!

Over the last couple of years, our congregation has been using Growing Young from the Fuller Youth Institute to help us in our ministry with our young people. Their research found that there are six core commitments which help churches in their ministry with young people. One of these is to take Jesus’ message seriously. This might sound obvious until we start thinking specifically about how we do that. With these stories about the lost sheep and coin, for example, what does it mean for us to take Jesus’ teaching about God valuing and searching for people who are lost seriously?

Firstly, we take this message of Jesus seriously when we identify as people who were lost but have been found. We might sometimes have a tendency to behave more like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law in the story and primarily see others as ‘lost.’ However, we can all identify as people who are lost because we all tend to want to go in our own directions, do things our own ways, and think that we can do life on our own. This leads us away from a relationship with our heavenly Father. We can also get a sense of being lost in the times of life when we feel like we don’t know where we are, how we got there or where we’re going.

However, God values each of us so much that he comes looking for us in Jesus the same way the shepherd searches for his sheep and the woman looks for her coin in Jesus’ story. When we identify as people who are lost, we also find a greater sense of value because Jesus came to look for the lost and return us into a loving relationship with God. We take this message of Jesus seriously when we recognise that we are lost so that we can find greater love, value and identity in Jesus as people whom he values enough to look and bring back to God. We take this message seriously when we admit that we can still get lost, and look to Jesus to lead us back into a renewed and deeper relationship with our God.

The second way we can take the message of the lost sheep and coin seriously is to trust that Jesus is still looking for people who are lost and have wandered from a trusting relationship with God through him. When we think about the people who have disconnected from our church, people in our own families who have walked away from a relationship with God, or the young people in our church who are in danger of leaving our community of faith, what are we willing to do in order to help to find them for the sake of Jesus? Do we run the risk of behaving more like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who criticise people who don’t do things the way we think they should be done, or who expect others to measure up to our standards? Or are we more like the shepherd who values the one sheep so much that he is willing to search until he finds it and brings it home? Are we like the woman who cleans the whole house and searches carefully until she finds what has been lost? What do we really value more – our own traditions, behaviours and expectations? Or the people that Jesus values enough to die for?

To take this message of Jesus seriously means recognizing that the way Jesus continues to look for people who are lost is through us. As the body of Christ in the world, he has commissioned and called us to search for and find those who have wandered away from a relationship with him or have got lost along the way of life. One of our most important roles as Jesus’ followers in the world is to be joining him in his search for those who are lost. The message of Jesus is good news for our world. The emphasis in Jesus’ teaching isn’t to tell people that they’re lost. Instead it’s to look for people who are already feeling lost and to help them find their way back to a loving relationship with God through Jesus. When people hear the good news of Jesus and turn to him as the one who leads them into a better life, there is such joy in heaven that it is hard to imagine.

Jesus welcomed the lost and brought them home through a new relationship with God. We take this message seriously when we recognise that we are among the lost, and when we join with Jesus in searching for others who are lost as well. Who is one person you know who might be feeling a little lost that you can connect with this week? Go looking for that person, sit with them and listen to them. In simple ways such as making the time for people who are lost, maybe Jesus will find them and bring them home, as the angels celebrate their return.

More to think about:

  • Have you ever lost something that was so important to you that you looked everywhere until you found it? What was it? Why was it so important to you?
  • What do you hear Jesus teaching us in the stories about the lost sheep and coin?
  • How might you take his teaching seriously in your own life?
  • Have you ever felt lost in your life? What happened?
  • What was it like for you to be found? If you’re still feeling lost, what might it mean to you that Jesus is looking for you & won’t stop until he finds you?
  • Do you know someone who is feeling lost for some reason? How might you be able to be the way that Jesus goes looking for that person?
  • How might your church be different if together you took seriously that Jesus wants to find people who are lost through you? What might need to change for you to do that faithfully & effectively?
  • Can you imagine what the celebration in heaven is like when someone who was lost finds their way back to God through Jesus? Describe what you think it might be like…