Summary: My attempt to deal with the issue of the "newness" of Jesus compared to the "oldness" of the Law. If you think I missed it, let me know (really!).
New Wine for New Wineskins
October 30, 2005
If there’s one thing that is inescapable when examining the life of Jesus, it’s that he was constantly challenging the status quo of the religious mindset of his day. He was pretty much fed up with it.
He regularly had to correct people’s misconceptions of God, the Messiah, the Scriptures, and even just plain living.
In our passage today, we see Jesus tackling another misconception - that religious tradition is the proper measure for one’s spirituality.
To many people in Jesus’ day, and our own, holding to the traditions of those who have gone before us was of the utmost importance - because in their eyes, tradition equaled spirituality.
To see how Jesus dealt with that, let’s turn in our Bibles to Matthew 9:14-17. If you’re using the Bibles in the seats, this is on page 687.
Then the followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus, asking, "Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast at all?"
15 Jesus answered, "Do you expect the guests at a wedding party to be sad as long as the bridegroom is with them? Of course not! But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
16 "No one patches up an old coat with a piece of new cloth, for the new patch will shrink and make an even bigger hole in the coat. 17 Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, for the skins will burst, the wine will pour out, and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins, and both will keep in good condition."
In the beginning of the passage, Jesus explains that the reason his disciples aren’t fasting is because he’s there! Jesus is the bridegroom, the Messiah, and while he’s there, there is no need for fasting.
Then Jesus uses a couple of metaphors to describe how tradition can become and had become a hindrance to the new thing God was doing through His Son, Jesus, and the kingdom he was bringing to his people.
Both are references to common pieces of everyday life in Israel at the time, and would not be lost on the people he was addressing.
But just what does this mean for us today? How can we take this piece of Scripture and make it live for us 2000 years after Jesus said it?
Well, let’s take a look at some ideas that I think we can take away from it, and we’ll ask God to do his thing as we examine these words of Jesus.
The first thing we need to look at is the fact that...
The "old wine" and "old cloth" represent the old system of acceptance by God.
The legalism of the Pharisees and others could not hold the grace that was a cornerstone of Jesus’ teaching.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
The old wineskins and old cloth were made up of the legalistic religious system that required complete obedience to God for acceptance by him and a home in heaven.
The only problem is that no one was capable of complete obedience. That was why God instituted the sacrificial system.
And even that wasn’t so much "buying off" God with the blood of animals. Rather, it was a looking forward to the Messiah, who would one day shed his own blood so that sins would forgiven. The sacrifices were an act of faith in the coming Messiah.
I like what the Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary says about this passage:
"Like old wineskins, the Pharisees and indeed the entire religious system of Judaism had become too rigid to accept Jesus. They could not contain him or his message in their traditions or rules. Their understanding of faithfulness to the law had become unsuitable for the fresh, dynamic power of Christ’s message."
Unfortunately, this is an attitude that permeates a lot of churches nowadays, and I want to examine some examples of how that’s shown.
But first, a disclaimer: my comments here are not to be an indictment against this church. I thank God that he is helping us avoid some of this thinking, and that he is helping us be people who reflect the grace of Jesus rather than the legalism of the Pharisees.
Current examples of "Old Wine/Old Cloth" thinking:
* "We’ve never done it that way before."
Those have been called, "the seven last words of a dying church."
There is a very similar saying as well, "We’ve always done it that way before." Same basic message: we don’t want to change for the sake of being more effective for Christ.