Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39
“New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.” – Luke 5:38-39 NLT
When it comes to reading, studying and understanding the Scriptures, context is everything. In other words, it is critical that we always look for what is going on in and around a particular passage. Lifting verses out of context is a recipe for disaster. It allows us to twist and manipulate the intended meaning to fit our own preconceived notions. So discovering the immediate context of a passage is essential to understanding what the author intended. And the greatest context we must always keep in mind when approaching the Word of God is that of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. From beginning to end, the Bible records for us this tension and how mankind has attempted to resolve it. The Bible makes it clear that God is holy and that man is completely sinful. And yet God commands man to be holy as He is holy. He even provides mankind with a set of divine rules and regulations that clearly articulate His expectations. But man is sinful and incapable of living righteously and holy as God demands. And the penalty for man’s unrighteousness? Death. That is the context of Scripture. God is a holy God and He has holy expectations of man. Man is unholy and he has a serious problem. So as we read through the Scriptures, we see men attempting to find ways to somehow solve their problem and satisfy the just demands of a holy God.
When Jesus appears on the scene, the context is no different. In fact, it had only worsened with time. And it was particularly bad among the Israelites, who He had chosen as His own people. He had hand picked them and then given them His Law to keep. Their keeping of His law would have set them apart from all the other nations. But they had failed. They were still trying when Jesus came along, but there track record was not exactly stellar. So when the disciples of John approach Jesus and ask why His disciples didn’t fast in the same way they and the Pharisees did, Jesus gives them an interesting and somewhat confusing answer – unless we remember the context. The fact that these men ask, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?” (Mark 2:18 NLT), reveals that this fasting was ritualistic in nature and tied to one of the many man-made laws that had been added to the Law of God. The fasting was tied to a form of righteousness based on human effort. Their fasting was performance-based and designed to bring them into good standing with God. So they can’t understand why Jesus’ disciples (and Jesus as well) are not doing the same thing. Didn’t they want to keep God happy and satisfied. Were they “too good” to do what even the Pharisees did to stay right with God?
But Jesus, knowing the greater context, tells them that they are missing the point. And He does so by using some very interesting metaphors. He compares the activities of His disciples to those of wedding guests celebrating with the groom at his wedding. That’s not a time for fasting, but for feasting and festivities. Jesus’ very arrival on to the scene in Israel had changed the rules of the game. The groom had come. This was not a time for fasting. It was a time of celebration. He then uses the imagery of a new patch being sewed on to a piece of old clothing. Once washed, the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old clothing, leaving it destroyed and useless. Jesus is trying to convey that He had come to bring a new way of solving man’s age-old problem of his sinfulness and God’s holiness. But this new way wasn’t going to be an add-on to the old way of doing things. It wasn’t going to be based on merit, earning, performance, or rule-keeping anymore. Fasting as a form of self-righteousness was not the way to a right relationship with God. Jesus came to bring something completely new. It wasn’t going to be about works or self-effort anymore, because that way didn’t work.
Jesus’ last metaphor seals the deal. He says, “no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins” (Luke 5:37 NLT). Jesus came to do something new. He came to present a new way to righteousness and a restored relationship with God. And that new way was not going to play well with the old way. The Pharisees, like old wineskins, were rigid and set in their ways. They couldn’t handle the new way Jesus came to offer. His message of grace, mercy, and repentance didn’t set well with them. They were satisfied with the old way, the old wine. They didn’t want what Jesus came to offer. “‘The old is just fine,’ they say.” (Luke 5:39 NLT). So Jesus says, “New wine must be stored in new wineskins” (Luke 5:38 NLT). In other words, His new message was going to require new hearts, and new lives transformed by the power of God. This was not going to be more of the same old thing, but something new altogether. Jesus was doing away with the old works-righteousness methodology and replacing it with something completely new that was going to work. Paul described it this way, “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT). New wine in new wineskins. The work of God, not man.
Father, mankind has suffered from the same old problem for centuries. And our solution has always been the same. We just keep trying to do good and live our lives in such a way that we might somehow please You enough to satisfy You and make You happy with us. But that was the old way and it never worked and it never will. So You came up with a new way, make possible through Your Son. You didn’t change the context, You just came up with a new solution to the same old problem. Thank You! Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men