The King's out of the Bag
The first recorded use of the expression "let the cat out of the bag" dates to a 1760 book review in the London Magazine. "'We could have wished that the author had not let the cat out of the bag" (mentalfloss.com). No one knows when, how, or where this expression originated. Most reject either the explanation of selling a cat in a bag when the buyer thinks it's a pig or the cat o' nine tails used to whip sailors. No one can explain where letting the cat out of the bag comes from but everyone knows what it means. So you all know what I mean when I say on Palm Sunday the King is out of the bag.
Look at the royal entrance Jesus made in Jerusalem today: He commands His apostles to acquire transportation; He claims lordship over a donkey and her colt as a sovereign who owns everything in His kingdom. See Him ride into Jerusalem as all around Him walk beneath Him. Nowhere else are we told Jesus rode anywhere. He rides on a donkey even as Solomon was placed on David's donkey to show that he was the legitimate heir to David's throne. And do you hear what they're saying? They're calling Him "Son of David," they're crying out "hosanna" which means "save us now." They're calling Him the Prophet predicted to succeed Moses. And Jesus doesn't shush anyone; doesn't forbid them from telling others; He accepts all their kingly adulation.
The King's out of the bag now. They name it and Jesus claims it. And He acts the part too. He makes not only a royal entrance, but takes royal actions. Notice how He calls the Temple, "My house." Whoa! He's claiming not only to be an earthly king but the King of kings, and He acts that part. See how He cleans His house. He overturns the tables of money changers and the benches of the dove sellers driving them out of His house. And get this; no one stops Him. No one even tries. The Temple had its own police force. They have to be there, but no one dares intervene with this King. Then Jesus holds court. The blind and lame come to Him in the Temple and He answers their prayers for healing right there in His house of prayer.
The King is definitely out of the bag on Palm Sunday. The royal entrance and Jesus' royal actions prove it. And His royal entrance and royal actions make for one royal mess. When the boys were small and we were playing poker and one of them would hold his cards below the table, an older one would say, "That'll get you shot in a bar, you know." It became a running joke. So that nowadays just about anything that happens when we're playing cards can get you shot in a bar.
Well, what Jesus does today can you get crucified. The Romans didn't tolerate self-proclaimed kings; they had to recognize you as such. The Sadducees who ran the Temple operations didn't like being called thieves. The Pharisees thought the only way out from under Rome was for the Jews to live more righteous lives like they did, so God would be moved to deliver them. Luke tells you they were the ones who wanted Jesus to rebuke the crowds for proclaiming Him King, Christ, Lord and Savior. Yes Jesus, this is going to get you crucified.
So what gives? Why is there no longer the so-called Messianic secret? Remember how people He healed and relatives of the healed were told not to tell anyone? Remember how the demons who knew He was the Son of Most High God were commanded to be silent? None of that here today, and not only is there no attempt to quiet the shouts of Hosanna, Son of David, but they are encouraged. Jesus does exactly what the Old Testament had predicted their rightful king would do: He is coming to them "gentle and ridding on a donkey." There's a bright yellow arrow pointing down from heaven saying, "Your King is here!"
If nobody else gets the message, Pilate does. On Friday he will have a sign made "The King of the Jews." This wasn't a whim of his. This was the official charge for which Jesus was crucified. Remember how the Jewish church leaders demand Pilate change the sign? "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews." But Pilate would have none of that. Not because he believed Jesus was really the God-appointed, rightful heir to the throne, but because that was the only reason He was being crucified by the Jewish leaders.
Our text is from Matthew, and where does this Gospel start? It starts with the Magi arriving in this same city, Jerusalem, and saying, "We have come to worship the One born King of the Jews." That almost got Jesus killed then and there, but then the King was put in the bag and whisked away to safety in Egypt. Now after 30 years in that bag, only showing who He was to select people at certain times, King Jesus bursts out in a big way.
Why? Because we need to know He is the rightful King, Son of David and Son of God who comes in the Name of Jehovah to save us. So what's the catch? Why doesn't Jesus just stay in Jerusalem? He has the right and the power to oust Pilate out of the governor's palace and the high priest out of the Temple. Why does He leave the city and stay the night in Bethany? Why does He basically abdicate the throne He has just claimed?
Well Jesus could have stayed in Jerusalem and been King, but He had no right to rule over sinners. They, we, had sold ourselves into slavery to another, to the Devil himself. You know how it works. A man sells his soul to the Devil and the Devil holds the paper on him and always collects at the most inconvenient time. The "paper" the Devil holds on us is God's own Word, God's own promises, God's own laws. These say people who sin in thought, word, or deed or even a person just born of sinful parents belongs to the Devil. Only holy people belong to God. All sinners have sold their soul to the Devil. That is me; that is you.
You see how this works in Job 1 and 2. The Devil appears in heaven waving his paper in front of God's nose saying he can prove Job's a sinner no different than anyone else. The Devil's in heaven because God's unfilled promise to punish sinners gives him a right to be there. See also Zechariah 3; there the Devil accuses the high priest himself of the most horrible sins, maybe even as bad as yours, and he has proof. There the high priest stands in filthy robes, mute, without excuse or defense.
Jesus is King and inexplicably He deigns to rule over sinners. It will take dying to get that done. But not like the cavalry with Jesus riding in to save the day by killing the bad guys, but Jesus on Calvary suffering, damning, and dying under the Devil's thumb at the hands of his henchmen. Jesus enters Jerusalem fit to rule in heaven itself. He has never done, spoke, or thought one wrong thing, ever. The Devil has tried tempting Him, tried accusing Him, tried tricking Him, tried using family and friends against Him, but never has Jesus sinned. The Devil combed through Jesus' life and could find not one spot or wrinkle, let alone stain, but no comb is needed to find our sins. We are all sin and unrighteousness.
To take away the paper that proves our souls are sold to the Devil, Jesus dies as we sinners should. It says it right there on the paper. In order for a sinner to go to heaven, all God's laws must be kept by that sinner. Jesus did that in place of all sinners. The next line says all the sins of all men have to be punished and sufficiently paid for. Jesus does that hanging helplessly on a cross as the Devil dances a jig in His face thinking He has lost. But it's the other way around. Jesus has won, and so have you, do you really know that?
The King's out of the bag today, but not everyone knows that. There is a royal entrance; there are royal actions; and there is certainly a royal mess, but the royal recognition is limited. Matthew highlights who will get what's going on by taking a passage from 2 prophets and running them together. The Holy Spirit can do that because all the words are His. From Isaiah 62:11 He takes, "Say to the Daughter of Zion" and from Zechariah 9:9 He takes "See your king."
Only a Daughter of Zion can see this king. On Good Friday the Daughters (plural) of Jerusalem will see only a man about to be crucified who they should weep over. No king here, no God here; no Savior here. A Daughter (singular) of Zion not Jerusalem which is the heavenly Church and not the earthly city, sees her King, and God and Savior here. Are you a Daughter of Zion? You are if you've been baptized into His family? You are if the contract the Devil had on your soul has been torn up by Jesus' words of Absolution. You are a Daughter of Zion if you share in the Flesh and Blood of your Brother Jesus the Son of God.
Daughters of Zion see their King today, in joy, in relief; they recognize that He is here to save them. The Holy Spirit tells them "your king comes to you" not to give them information about His physical arrival. No, to tell Daughters of Zion He comes to you in the sense of "for your benefit," "in your interest." Your King has not abandoned you to the cruel chains of Sin, Death, or the Devil. He has not left you for dead let alone damned. He has not left you at the mercy of the Devil, the World, or your own accusing conscience. He has come for you, but in order to rescue you He will have to get through Sin, Death, and the Devil, and He does that by giving Himself willing over to them "for your benefit," "in your interest."
Having difficulty with the royal recognition? If God can get children and even infants to recognize their King and God in the lowly person of Jesus and so cry out "Hosanna," He can open your eyes and mouth to royalty too. So much so that not only will your eyes see and your mouth praise Him in this text, but your eyes will see Him on this altar in Bread and Wine and your mouth will open not only to praise your King but to eat His Body and drink His Blood. Where royal Blood goes royalty goes and the King's all the way out of the bag into your life. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20140413); Matthew 21: 1-17