“Annunciation, Acclamation, Crucifixion” (Luke 1:30-33; Mark 11:1-10; 15:1-39)
Today is a day in the church year that goes by two names, “Palm Sunday” and the “Sunday of the Passion.” This is Palm Sunday, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem, and the crowd spread palm branches before him and acclaimed him as their coming king. But today also serves as the Sunday of the Passion, the first day of Holy Week, looking ahead to Christ’s suffering, which will culminate in his crucifixion on Good Friday. The Scripture readings we have had so far in the service today have brought out both of these emphases: the Processional Gospel for Palm Sunday and the Holy Gospel for the Sunday of the Passion.
But did you know that today happens to go by another name also? It is the Annunciation of Our Lord. This one happens just by coincidence of calendar, since today is March 25. Think about it. What other church festival always happens on the 25th of a month? That’s right, Christmas, which always falls on December 25. And since we celebrate our Lord’s birth on December 25, nine months before that, on March 25, is the day we remember when the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary that she would give birth to the Savior. “Conceived by the Holy Spirit” on March 25, “born of the virgin Mary” on December 25, nine months later.
So today we have the convergence of three days in the church year, all on the same day: The Annunciation of Our Lord, Palm Sunday, and the Sunday of the Passion. Let’s see if we can tie all three together now and see what they mean for us. I think we can. And so our theme this morning: “Annunciation, Acclamation, Crucifixion.”
We’ll start with the Annunciation of Our Lord. We read about it in Luke chapter 1. The angel Gabriel comes to a young woman named Mary in the city of Nazareth. He greets her and tells her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
What amazing news this is! This young virgin is going to bear a son. She’s told to give him the name Jesus. And Mary’s son will also be the Son of the Most High God. A great mystery here! True God and true man in one person, this Jesus to be born. And he will be given a kingdom, a great kingdom, a kingdom that has no end. This Jesus will be the great son of King David of old, the long-prophesied descendant of David who will inherit his throne and reign over an everlasting kingdom of peace and blessing. This Jesus therefore will be the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. That’s what Gabriel is telling Mary in the Annunciation.
Now we fast-forward thirty-plus years from that day. It’s the day when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. There are a lot of pilgrims coming into Jerusalem at that time, since it is just days before the festival of Passover. Many of these people had heard about or had even seen Jesus during his ministry in Galilee. They knew about the wisdom of his teaching. They knew about his miracles of healing and driving out demons and feeding the multitudes. Could this be the one? Could this Jesus be the promised Messiah, the great king and deliverer God had promised to send them? Here he comes into Jerusalem to take up his throne! So they acclaim him as their coming king: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
So here is the connection between the Annunciation and Palm Sunday. Gabriel had said that Jesus would be given the throne of his father David and reign over his kingdom. And here the crowds greet Jesus and acclaim him as such.
But why this particular acclamation, with the “Hosanna” and the “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”? Why were the crowds shouting those particular words? Well, as I said, it was almost Passover, and at Passover there were certain psalms that were appointed for use at that time. So those psalms would have been on people’s minds, and even on their lips, as they come to Jerusalem. One of them was Psalm 118, where we read in verses 25 and 26 as follows: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!”
So you can see where the “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” comes from. It comes from Psalm 118. The crowds are acknowledging Jesus as their coming king. But what about the “Hosanna”? I don’t see a “Hosanna” in there. Well, actually you do. The word “Hosanna,” or “Hoshiana” as it’s pronounced in Hebrew, is translated as “Save us now, we pray.” That’s what it means. The people are looking to the Lord to save them, to deliver them from their enemies and to give them success and peace and all sorts of blessings. That’s what they were expecting from their messianic king. And so the word “Hosanna” is not only a prayer to the Lord to save them, it is also an acclamation, a shout of praise to the Lord for sending the very king who will do that. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
But now how will the coming king do the saving? That is the question, and this is where we have the connection between Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion. And it is a most puzzling connection indeed. For in the space of just a few days, Jesus will go from great acclamation to a humiliating crucifixion, from palm branches strewn before him to a crown of thorns placed upon him. This will be Christ’s Passion, his suffering and death.
You see, Jesus’ enemies will be in Jerusalem too that fateful week. Everyone will be in town for the festival. Oh yes, Jesus had enemies, enemies on several sides, and what those enemies could agree on was that they all hated Jesus and wanted to get him out of the way. Jesus had exposed their hypocrisy, their phony religiosity, which made them look good in comparison to others but did not have the approval of God. They prided themselves on how good they looked, how pious and religious, how well they were keeping God’s law, when really they weren’t. And Jesus called them on it. He was upsetting their apple cart. He was threatening their power and prestige with the people. So he had to go. They conspired together that week, Jesus’ enemies did, and they came up with a plan to do him in.
And so on Thursday night, Jesus was betrayed and arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. They condemned him as a blasphemer worthy of death. They handed him over to the Roman governor, Pilate, so Jesus could be condemned as an insurrectionist, a would-be “King of the Jews.” Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, but the enemies stirred up the crowd and kept crying out, “Crucify him!” So Pilate bowed to the pressure, and crucifixion it would be.
The soldiers mock Jesus and dress him as a pathetic monarch: “Hail, King of the Jews!” Pilate has an inscription placed on the cross: “The King of the Jews.” Jesus’ enemies mock the would-be king: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
Yet in this very act of not coming down, of not saving himself, Jesus is indeed saving others. In the greatest way possible, Jesus is being the Savior-King, the great messianic king announced by Gabriel, acclaimed on Palm Sunday, and now bringing in his kingdom, precisely by his death on the cross. Here on the cross is where all three emphases of this day come together: annunciation, acclamation, crucifixion.
And dear friends, Jesus did all this for you! God sent his Son into the world, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, to be your Savior. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to accomplish the mission on which he was sent. He knew what it would take, his suffering and death, and yet he did it willingly, for you, so great is his love and compassion. Jesus came to save you and to bring you into his kingdom of grace and glory.
It would take the death of the Son of God, come in the flesh, to do the job. No other way, no other person, could do this. You could not. You were trapped in your sins and could not lift yourself out. But Jesus does. He lifts you out of your death-trap by his being lifted up on the cross. The Son of God atones for your sins and wins for you full forgiveness. “By his death he has destroyed death, and by his rising to life again he has won for us everlasting life.” One week from today we will celebrate that Easter victory.
From annunciation to acclamation to crucifixion, Jesus is your heaven-sent Savior. He is the great King who brings you into his everlasting kingdom, where you will share in his joy and life and blessing forever. And so we too acclaim him as our King: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”