Isaiah 50:4-9      Mark 11:1-11


            “Hosanna!  Hosanna!”   The crowds shouted “Hosanna!”  In the Hebrew of the day they were asking the king to save them…just as the woman from Tekoa pleaded with King David (2 Samuel 14:4) and another woman pleaded with another king of Israel at the time of great famine (2 Kings 6:26).

The crowd had heard of Jesus.  Word had spread throughout Jerusalem of his teaching and his miracles.  Days earlier he had raised Lazarus from the dead.  He had given sight to blind Bartimaeus.  Now…there he was…the man they had come to believe was the Son of David…the messiah who would mount a mighty army to overcome the oppressive rule of the Roman Caesars.

Yet…this man they hailed with cries of Hosanna…rode into town on a donkey…not just any donkey…a donkey that had never been ridden before.  In those days a man riding on a donkey symbolized someone who had come in peace…not to lead a mighty army.  Jesus…riding on the donkey…also fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah. (Zechariah 9:9)

The people threw their cloaks on the ground under the donkey’s hooves.  They threw palm leaves onto the ground as Jesus traveled forward on the donkey.  They did the same thing their forefathers had done a century and a half earlier when Judas Maccabaeus had led a revolt against the ruling empire.  He was hailed as one of the great Jewish military heroes.  The crowd thought another revolution leader was there…right there in front of  them.

Let’s stop here…ask and answer a question.  The question is this.  “Why are our ears on the outside of our head and not on the inside?  Why did God make us that way?”           Perhaps we can start to answer that question by asking this question.  “Who would we hear if our ears were on the inside of our head?”

Of course…if our ears were on the inside of our head…the only sound we would hear is ourselves.  God put our ears on the outside of our heads so we could hear God…and others.

The problem with the people in Jerusalem that day is that somehow their ears had been misplaced.  It wasn’t something new for them.  Where are our ears today?  What are we hearing?  Are we listening only to ourselves?  Are we listening only to those we see as just like us?  What are we missing…or misunderstanding when we do so?

The problem of misplaced ears was something that Isaiah understood.  Almost four hundred times in the Old Testament…including the words spoken by Isaiah…we hear the promise of the coming of God.  Through God’s prophets we learned much about how he would come…and what would happen when he got here.

Somehow the Israelites thought it would be all peaches and cream…an easy path forward for them when God arrived…when the messiah got here.  It’s not only that they just didn’t hear… they listened to themselves instead.

Isaiah made it clear that he had been given a well-taught tongue to encourage the tired Israelites.  Isaiah made it clear that God had opened his ears to hear God.  And…Isaiah made it clear that he didn’t back away…didn’t pull the covers over his head and go back to sleep to dream of better…easier ways.

Isaiah spoke about the servant of the Master….God.  Isaiah was speaking about himself…and about the coming Messiah.   Isaiah was telling them that the Sovereign Lord has both the power and the will to deliver his people from their sin through the obedience of his Servant, even if it means the Servant must suffer to accomplish the sovereign Lord’s purpose.   Through the servant God would deliver his people from their sin…even though the people had fallen into sin after they had turned their own ears to the inside of their heads.

Isaiah went on to say no one would be able to successfully accuse the servant of either disobeying God or of falsifying the message.  No one would be able to change the servant’s message by beating him or pulling out his beard to make him stop obeying his Lord.  In fact his accusers would be unable to stand at the end.

Though the servant would face such abuse and ridicule there was certainty…no question about it…the Lord would save him in the end.  That certainty gave the servant the courage to be obedient.

That certainty gave Isaiah the courage to spread God’s word to all…including those who had turned their ears to the inside…those who were groping in the dark.  For them…and to them…he said “Trust in God.”  Yes…even in the darkness.

You and I often live in perplexity.  It might even seem like there’s no way out.  The fact that we’re perplexed and seem at a dead end doesn’t mean we aren’t obeying God.  Faith…trust in God… overcomes the darkness.  Those dark times are what faith is for.   When nothing else in our experience makes sense…when we have no visible path forward and everything seems to be closing in around us…what should we do?

We should take our stand on the revealed character of God…revealed through the Word of God…revealed through Isaiah…revealed through Jesus Christ.   We should keep going in his will…one step at a time.  We should announce to ourselves again and again the promises of the gospel.  This…and only this…is a time when it’s okay if our ears are facing the inside.

The darkness described by Isaiah is the courageous… hard path of obedience to the Lord.  God did not promise that we would never be confused and distraught.  If He didn’t give that easy path to Isaiah…if He didn’t give that easy path to his own son…why should we expect it.   He did promise…however… that he would never leave us or forsake us.  Even when we can’t see Him…He does surround us…guard us and lead us forward.  Listening to the Word of God…listening to Christ rather than to ourselves is a startling way to live…the only way to live…to live…not just exist.  No one likes darkness, and there are so many lights out there to live by…so many voices to hear…even our own.

Making sure our ears are turned outward…not inward…is the beginning.  Knowing that the path will be troubled…that there will be times of darkness… as it was for Isaiah…as it was for Jesus…adds to our strength…and trusting that God is with us…even in that darkness…will assure us that there is a response to our own “Hosanna!”…our own plea to be saved.

On that day…in Jerusalem…the crowd shouted, “Hosanna!  Save us!”  They were thinking that Jesus had come to save them from their political enemies.  What they needed most…what we need most…is for Jesus to save us from ourselves.  Human nature and aspirations have changed very little over the years.  That day that they threw their cloaks under the donkey’s hooves…threw palms on the path for Jesus…and what happened in the week that followed…revealed what still exists today.   We still need saving… saving from at least three things.

  1. We must be saved from a rabid…petty… selfish and fear-filled…nationalism that divides the world into tiny enclaves…nations and territories set against one another.  Jesus did not come to fulfill anyone’s political agenda.  In fact…as our judge, he may condemn such agendas as he did at the temple in Jerusalem.  Amazingly…people still drape Jesus in nationalist flags and assume that he not only endorses their political slogans but will work to accomplish them.  The one who came to Jerusalem came as the king of the entire world and died for all people.  His people…His people…will not be…are not…confined to any one nation.  His sacrificial love will reach beyond all national borders and races.
  2. We must also be saved from a mercurial faith that abandons Jesus at the first sign of trouble.  Jesus does not welcome cheers from throngs along a parade route who will not pray with him in dark Gethsemane or go with him to an even darker Golgotha.  He loves but wonders about those Christians who show up once a year when the cheering starts around Easter.  He needs those who will endure to the end, even when faced with unspeakable suffering.
  3. We must be saved from foolish expectations of personal glory so that we can see God’s power truly brought about on the cross.  God does not win by sending armies into bloody battles but by sending his Son to the cross.  As a king who gives his life for others Jesus reigns with a kind of power that earthly kings…or presidents…cannot match.

As we shout “Hosanna!” today…as we plead “Save me!”…in which direction are our ears turned?

Inward…to our own fears…prejudices…anxieties and uncertainties and doubts.  Or…outward to the hope…comfort…security and love for all that comes from our Lord and Savior…Jesus Christ?