New Wine into New Wineskins

March 15th, 2009 • Posted in Messages/Sermons • 3,179 views

Luke Lesson 17 (2009)


Luke 5:33-39
Key Verse 5:38

“No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”

A lady who had been attending a Presbyterian church for her whole life was told by her granddaughter that in Sunday school the teacher said Jesus was Jewish. The Presbyterian lady said, “Well, honey, that may be, but I assure you, God is still a Presbyterian.” Judaism in Jesus’ time was an old religion of tradition with many rules and regulations. People in Judaism thought that their religious practices were orthodox and everyone should do the same things they did. However, in today’s passage, Jesus compares it with old garments and old wineskins while he identifies his ministry as new wine and new wineskins. The most challenging thought is that old and new cannot be mixed, and new wine must be poured into new wineskins. Let’s think what Jesus meant by that.

As we noticed in the previous passages, what Jesus did was quite radical and very different from the Jewish religious traditions and customs. He touched the man with leprosy and ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. Jewish religion didn’t allow anyone to touch a leper or associate with those who were considered ceremonially unclean, like tax collectors and other public law breakers. Most religious people would avoid them. But Jesus often spent time with them. He ate and drank with them. In fact, Jesus welcomed them just as they were. He didn’t treat them differently. He showed them his unconditional love and mercy. The Jewish religious leaders were annoyed by the way Jesus was doing his ministry. To their eyes, Jesus didn’t look right. Not only that, but his followers didn’t seem religious enough.

Look at verse 33. “They said to him (Jesus), ‘John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.’” Luke didn’t identify clearly who asked this question. According to Matthew, it was John’s disciples (Mt 9:14) and according to Mark it was John’s disciples and the Pharisees (Mk 2:28) who raised this question. These were very sincere people who took God and their religious practices very seriously. They strongly believed in their religious practices and thought that everyone who took God seriously must do the same thing. But they found that Jesus and his followers were not doing what they were supposed to do. They were not only eating and drinking with the wrong kind of people, but they also were not fasting and praying as the Pharisees did. The fact that Jesus, who claimed to be the Messiah, didn’t teach his followers fasting prayer really didn’t make sense to them. So they came to Jesus and said, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” They were saying, “Fasting prayer is basic. If you are not teaching fasting prayer, what are you teaching to your followers?”

In fact, fasting was a major religious tradition in Judaism. Any pious person would practice fasting prayer regularly. For example, the Jewish Scripture required one day of mandatory fasting on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31). A four day fast accompanied a commemoration of the fall of Jerusalem (Zechariah 7:3,5; 8:19). Fasting usually involved repentance and mourning for the forgiveness of sins. Pharisees fasted twice a week, every Monday and Thursday. Fasting and prayer were regarded as a spiritual virtue. Therefore, the failure of Jesus’ disciples to fast could be interpreted as having a lack of respect for God and being unspiritual.

How did Jesus answer them? Jesus wasn’t against the practice of fasting prayer itself. We know that Jesus also fasted for forty days at the outset of his messianic ministry. However, Jesus’ fasting was different from that of the Pharisees. First of all, Jesus explained why he and his followers were not fasting at that time, comparing the situation to a wedding. It was the time of joy, not mourning. Look at verses 34-35. “Jesus answered, ‘Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.’” Jesus explained his relationship with his disciples by using the example of a wedding, which was often used to describe God’s relationship with His people. Since the bridegroom of the banquet was present and the wedding was taking place, the disciples didn’t need to fast. It was the time for them to celebrate God’s salvation. Yet, according to Jesus, they would have to fast when their groom is taken from them, indicating his death and perhaps even ascension until his second coming. Likewise, God’s people don’t need to fast all the time as the Jews did because of their fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit. But there may be a time for them to fast in their longing for the completion of God’s redemption.

Here, we see that Jesus was never opposed to fasting prayer. In our journey to the kingdom of heaven, there is time to rejoice and there is time to mourn. Repentance is our way of life but not necessarily by regular fasting prayer. In fact, many people fasted for the wrong purpose, only to gain peoples’ approval.

That’s why Jesus warned his disciples not to be hypocritical by saying that when they prayed, they should pray in private, in a closet, or where only God can see them. And when they fasted, nobody should know that they are fasting. Why? Because there is a danger that they could become hypocrites, like the Pharisees and teachers of the law. I believe that Jesus often fasted to pray. And when he prayed, he went to a solitary place. It does not mean that we should not have public prayer meetings or fasting. But Judaism in Jesus’ time seemed most concerned about the outward formalities rather than inner growth. On the other hand, Jesus’ main concern in worship is not performing religious practices but a personal relationship with God. It’s easy for us to think only about how we look good on the outside more than the inside. But what Jesus is concerned about most is what is inside more than outside. That is what created tension between Jesus’ new teaching and Judaism.

In the following verses, Jesus illustrates that the gospel and Judaism cannot be mixed by telling two parables. Look at verses 36-37. “He told them this parable: ‘No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.” Although Jesus spoke two parables to them, the main point was the same. “You cannot mix new with old.” In fact, it would be a foolish thing to try to repair the old garments with the patch from a new garment. If we do, we could ruin both the new garment and old garment. In order to make a clear point, Jesus spoke one more parable.

In the old days, wine was often kept not in glass bottles but in wineskins made from sheepskin or goatskin. If we pour new wine into a glass bottle, it does not matter. But if we pour new wine into old wineskins, it would be a foolish error. Why? It’s because the new wine is still fermenting. Therefore, the old wineskin which is rigid cannot sustain the fermentation. It would rip. As a result both the new wine and the old wineskins would be ruined. Again we learn that old and new cannot be mixed. What Jesus is trying to say is that the new era of God’s grace has come and should be embraced by new attitudes and new ways. So the new way Jesus was bringing should not to be mixed with the old ways of Judaism. We need a new container to hold the dynamic work of the Spirit of God.

When we read John chapter 2, we read Jesus’ first miraculous sign in the wedding banquet at Cana, Galilee, in which Jesus changed water into wine. When people tasted the wine, they were amazed. We may say that water refers to Judaism in Jesus time, which is religious rituals and traditions, and wine refers to the blood sacrifice of Jesus, which is full of grace and truth. The new ministry of the gospel is life saving and life changing through the redemption of Jesus and the transformation of the Holy Spirit. It’s a powerful experience. But it requires a new attitude. The old system of sacrifice is no longer needed and the old signs of religious piety are no longer required. The new way has come, the new way of the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 reads, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

Therefore, now in the new way of the living, what is counted the most important is not outward form but the content inside. We are a new creation. II Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Galatians 6:15 reads, “Neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” Although Jesus seemed to be following Jewish traditions and religious practices, he was actually preaching a new way of life, not mixing new with old. Jesus said in verse 38, “No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”

As we see in the gospel narratives, the way Jesus did the ministry was welcomed by many people but also offended many religious people who preferred their old ways. The people resisted change, sometimes even changes directed by God. Why was it so hard for them to change? It’s because of the limited perspectives. They were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong. They had zeal without knowledge.

It’s also because they were content with the ways things were. Look at verse 39. “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’” The Jewish leaders were satisfied with and even proud of their religious life and heritage. They said, “We are the best!” But their contentment and pride in their religious practices made them think that they didn’t need to try new ways. Rather, they felt that they should keep their traditions as a matter of life and death. In fact, Jesus’ new way was a threat to them. So, in the end, they crucified Jesus and persecuted his followers.

We know that this kind of tragic story is not limited only to Judaism. It’s easy for us to insist on our own religious practice as absolute. We have all good intention and meaning in our religious practices. Most churches or Christian organizations emphasize certain and different religious practices, which they believe to be good and best. However, the problem is what may seem to be a good and meaningful practice in one place or one situation may not be as good or meaningful in other places or different situations, culture and locations. The most important thing is one should be open and flexible to be able to accommodate the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit. It requires constant spiritual struggle and awareness.

Older people tend to like more traditional hymns while young people like to sing new and contemporary gospel songs. Traditional hymns are good and new hymns are good. These are very important, but not absolute. The absolutes are the gospel truth, like Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, and how we apply this gospel principle in our lives. How you pray, when you pray, what kind of hymns you sing and how often you fast or certain religious practices should not be compared to this. The importance in our walk with the Lord is our personal relationship and commitment to Jesus and the ministry of his gospel. As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23)

There are many things that can hinder the work of God in us: severe self-criticism, complacency, greed, pride, lack of honesty, fear, self-consciousness and rigidity. And the worst might be rigidity. Due to rigidity of our body and mind, we lose our sensitivity and creativity. Even though we are blind, we don’t even know that we are blind.

An eighty-year-old man’s golf game was hampered by poor eyesight. He could hit the ball well but he couldn’t see where it went. So his doctor teamed him up with a ninety-year-old man who had perfect eyesight and was willing to go along to serve as a spotter. The eighty-year-old man hit the first ball and asked his companion if he saw where it landed. “Yep, surely I did” said the ninety-year-old. “Where did it go?” the ninety-year-old replied, “I don’t remember.” One had bad eyesight and the other had bad memory. Old people tend to become rigid due to the loss of hearing and eye-sight. So we think that only old people are all rigid. But that’s not true. It’s a matter of our attitude. Even young people can be rigid when they don’t have proper perspectives and the right attitude. However, even as we become older, we can still become a new creation when we have new perspectives and the right attitude before God.

I am aware that most of us are willing to take adventures, yet hesitate sometimes because of fear. Christian life is a new challenge in light of what Jesus, “No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” We can enjoy the new wine of Jesus and be led and filled with the Holy Spirit with our new attitude. Some of us may feel comfortable with and are used to the old ways. We live in a global community. We are to reach out to people from all different culture and backgrounds. That’s what our Lord Jesus commanded us to do. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We are not to compromise with sin. Yet, we need to keep in mind that nothing can choke us more than rigidity in our lives. That’s why Jesus said, “No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” May the Lord help us to have proper awareness and gain new perspectives and prepare ourselves to be new wineskins and be useful for the dynamic work of God’s salvation around us in New York and the whole world now and in the years to come.

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