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Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” . . . And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant. (Matthew 21:8–11, 14–15)

There has never been a more enduringly and pervasively polarizing person on the planet than Jesus Christ. The Bible itself promises it would be this way when it says, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16, cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14). The central person and message of Christianity fall on a person in one of two ways: life or death, freedom or slavery, joy or disgust.

The drama of this dichotomy is lived out all of the time, wherever the name of Jesus is loved and proclaimed. One scene in history vividly highlights just how far apart lovers and haters of Christ really are. The promised King is making his way to Jerusalem to finally rescue God’s people, and there are two groups ready to receive him. One rejoices and sings his praises. The other scoffs and rejects him. So what set them apart?

Hosanna in the Highest

When Jesus entered the town, a crowd gathered to welcome him with open arms. They spread their cloaks and branches out on the road before him (Matthew 21:8). And they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). They rejoiced and praised God for Jesus and for everything he had done (Luke 19:37).

What makes them receive Jesus with so much hope and happiness? They really believed he was the Messiah, the Savior of Psalm 118. That’s where they got, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” When they looked at the man, they saw hundreds of years of failure, oppression, and suffering coming to an end. They saw the forgiveness, salvation, and victory for which they’d been longing. They saw their King.

Hosanna in the Slightest

At the very same time, another group was forming and responding to Jesus. Reading the same passages of Scripture and looking on at the same man, the same ministry, the same life, they scoffed, and cursed, and schemed to kill the Christ. It says they were “indignant” (Matthew 21:15) — irritated, angry, and resentful. Jesus may have done many great things, but he would not be their King.

They hated hearing Jesus praised like that. They despised people holding him up as Israel’s Savior. Their desires, their plans, and their ambitions didn’t match up with the homeless, wandering son of a carpenter. He confronted and humbled them again and again with his gospel, and eventually their pride boiled over in rage. So instead of singing to King Jesus, they instigated and supervised the murder of their own Messiah.

Preparing to Meet Our King (Psalm 51)

Two groups — both with the same information, both witnessing the same events, both listening to the same message — two totally different hearts. One crowd sang the promises of God in praise to Jesus. The other tried to silence him with an excruciating and violent death. Perhaps even some who praised him on Palm Sunday turned on him days later. Where will our voice be heard when Jesus returns again? We’ve all sinned and with our lives joined the horrifying chorus, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” But Jesus died so that the same sinners that nailed him to the cross with our sin might have the opportunity to lay our cloaks, our branches, our lives at his feet in worship.

Our King conquered and saved us through death. He died to remove our heart of stone and rebellion, and to replace it with a heart of flesh and faith. Being found in him, we now plead with God daily,

Heal my heart and make it clean.
Open up my eyes to the things unseen.
Show me how to love like you have loved me.

Break my heart for what breaks yours,
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause,
As I walk from earth into eternity.

Hosanna! Our Savior has come, and he will come again. May he prepare us today to receive him in a way worthy of a King.