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New Wine needs a New Wineskin

Luke 5:37-39

23rd August 2019

Last week we started to look at Jesus's response to this complaint:

Luke 5:33
They said to him, "John 's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking."

He gave them three explanations. The first was:

Luke 5:34-35
Jesus answered, "Can you make the friends 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."

And the second was:

Luke 5:36
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."

We studied those last time. Jesus's third explanation was:

Luke 5:37-38
"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. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins."

In those days, wine was kept in animal skins. You'd take the skin of a small animal, scrape off the fur, turn the skin inside out, sew it up, and pour the wine through the neck. Over time, a wineskin would become hard and brittle, but new wine continues to ferment, releasing gas. If you pour new wine into a wineskin, the wineskin will need to stretch, to expand, to contain this gas. A new wineskin could expand, but an old wineskin would break. So you didn't put new wine in old wineskins.

Jesus was saying you can't pour New Covenant life – New Testament life – Christian life – into Judaism. Judaism can't contain it. To try to contain Christianity within Judaism would result in Judaism being destroyed and Christianity being wasted.

And today, we can't pour Christian life, Biblical truth, godly ethics, spiritual power, revelation and discernment, into a non-Christian lifestyle.

You can try to live much the same way you did before you met Jesus. And, sadly, many Christians do, but it just makes you unhappy. Your non-Christian friends see you as unauthentic; you're not an authentic non-Christian, and you're not living like an authentic Christian. And the tension inside your own heart becomes unbearable. You're new wine in an old wineskin. The Holy Spirit within you puts a strain on the old way of talking and thinking and living, until one day it will burst.

You have two choices. You can suppress the Holy Spirit, stop reading your Bible, stop going to church meetings, stop praying (except in emergency, perhaps) to reduce the pressure. Or you can give up on your old lifestyle. You can accept that you were crucified with Christ, and live the rest of your life for Him, and know real peace, real joy, real fulfilment, real purpose, real relationship with God.

What's more important, the new wine, or the old wineskin?

Romans 12:2a
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Let go of the old way of thinking. Yield every thought, every idea, every desire, every ambition you've ever had, to Jesus Christ. And find true happiness.

While we're on the subject of new ideas, given by Jesus, let's think about this one:

John 13:34-35
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

God's new wine, God's new suit of clothes for you, includes living for God, of course. It also includes loving one another in the same way that Jesus loved us. Jesus gave His life for us, and we should be devoted to one another. This is the new life Jesus offers us – living in a church that's a community of believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, who accept each other, and serve and pray for each another. Is that better than our old way of living? Oh yes!

But Jesus warns us:

Luke 5:39
And no one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, 'The old is good.'"

This applies to new Christians, but it also applies to those of us who've been Christians for a long time. We get used to the way we do things. We can become hard and brittle like an old wineskin. God wants to pour new wine into us, so we must be flexible. We must pray, "Lord, let me stay like a new wineskin. Don't let me become hard. Don't let me get set in my ways and resistant to change."

Does God want to do a new thing in your life, and in your church? If so, then both you and your church need to be flexible, to be willing to change. Does God want to pour new wine into your life and your church's life? Then you and your church need to be like new wineskins – flexible, soft, and able to expand to hold the new wine.

William Barclay's commentary on this passage, written in 1953, says:

"Don't," says Jesus, "let your mind become like an old wineskin. People say of wine, 'The old is better.' It may be at the moment, but they forget that it is a mistake to despise the new wine, for the day will come when it has matured and it will be best of all." The whole passage is Jesus' condemnation of the shut mind and a plea that men should not reject new ideas.
We should never be afraid of adventurous thought. If there is such a person as the Holy Spirit, God must ever be leading us into new truth. Fosdick somewhere asks, "How would medicine fare if doctors were restricted to drugs and methods and techniques three hundred years old?" And yet our standards of orthodoxy are far older than that. The man with something new has always to fight. Galileo was branded a heretic when he held that the earth moved round the sun. Lister had to fight for antiseptic technique in surgical operations. Simpson had to battle against opposition in the merciful use of chloroform. Let us have a care that when we resent new ideas we are not simply demonstrating that our minds are grown old and inelastic; and let us never shirk the adventure of thought.
We should never be afraid of new methods. That a thing has always been done may very well be the best reason for stopping doing it. That a thing has never been done may very well be the best reason for trying it. No business could exist on outworn methods - and yet the church tries to. Any business which had lost as many customers as the church has would have tried new ways long ago - but the church tends to resent all that is new.
Once on a world tour Rudyard Kipling saw General Booth come aboard the ship. He came aboard to the beating of tambourines which Kipling's orthodox soul resented. Kipling got to know the General and told him how he disliked tambourines and all their kindred. Booth looked at him. "Young man," he said, "if I thought I could win one more soul for Christ by standing on my head and beating a tambourine with my feet I would learn how to do it."
There is a wise and an unwise conservatism. Let us have a care that in thought and in action we are not hidebound reactionaries when we ought, as Christians, to be gallant adventurers.

Let's pray that God makes us open-minded, flexible, adaptable, so that we can handle the new thing He wants to do.

And one day, Jesus will make everything new:

Revelation 21:1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

So how are we going to live now? And how are we going to live for all eternity? It's our choice.