Summary: 1. Wineskins were made to be filled with wine. 2. New wine calls for new wineskins. 3. Wineskins were made for pouring.
Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician and philosopher. In his writings, which were entitled Pensees, he traces the logical progression of his thought on many subjects. But something happened to Pascal which was beyond logic and rational thought. After his death, his servant found a piece of paper sewn into the lining of his coat. Here, in part, is what he wrote:
The year of grace 1654.
Monday, 23 November, . . .
From about half-past ten in the evening
until about half past midnight.
The God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.
Not of the philosophers and intellectuals.
Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace . . .
joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. . .
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ. . .
The God whom Pascal encountered was not the God of the theologians and scholars, he was the personal God of the Bible. Pascal did not gain a new theology, he gained a new experience. He gained confidence and joy. And when the true Pascal met the true God there was true surrender — sweet renunciation and complete submission — not as a slavish thing, but as one gives oneself to a lover. There was passion in Pascal’s experience that he described as “FIRE.” This is the fire of Pentecost. The fire of Pentecost is the presence of God, whom the Bible tells us sits on a burning throne (Daniel 7:9), lives in everlasting burnings (Isaiah 33:14), is surrounded by seraphim — flaming angels (Isaiah 6:2) and is himself a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24). Pentecost is when the apostles and other followers of Christ came into contact with the fire of God — so much so that it could be seen hovering over them.
That same powerful presence is available to us today. The fire of God cleanses us, empowers us and fills us with spiritual passion. It ignites our imaginations and fills us with a kind of joy that is unknown to those who have never opened their lives to God. But Pentecost tells us that this is not just a one time experience. It is not just a matter of being saved from hell. This is not a new belief system, a new religion or a new morality — this is a transformation of character, a cleansing and renewal of heart and mind. This is a new perspective. This is hope and joy. This is the new wine of the Spirit. In fact, the wine of the Spirit intoxicates much like distilled wine, for the people seeing the believers at Pentecost said, “They have had too much wine. They are drunk.” Wouldn’t that be something if they said that about us today! Usually the outside world looks at Christians now and says, “They need a drink!” They call us boring, joyless, and sour. Would to God that we would be so full of the joy of the wine of God that people thought we had a little too much to drink. Far better that than having them think we have never experienced any joy in our encounter with God.
Jesus said, “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17). I want to explore Jesus’ statement from a few angles this morning. But first, let me explain what wineskins were. The hide of an animal was sewn and used as a kind of bottle. The entire hide could be used for a large container, or any part of the skin could be used for a smaller container. In Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, one of the Roman soldiers drinks from one of these wineskins. They would squeeze the bag to get the wine to come out. These skins could be used over and over, but after awhile they became dry and brittle, and if new wine was put into it, the gasses from the fermentation process would put pressure on the old skin and it could break.
The first observation I want to make is: Wineskins are made to be filled with wine. I hope that this is not too obvious, but nothing is more disappointing than empty wineskins. You will remember the story of Jesus’ mother who came to Jesus when the wineskins were empty. They had run out of wine and it wasn’t time for the celebration to be over. The guests were disappointed and possibly upset with the family. The purpose of wineskins is to be full of wine, and when they are empty, they are not fulfilling the purpose for which they were made. The point is that the people of God were intended to be vessels of the wine of the Spirit. We were created to be full of the Holy Spirit. And when we do not have the Holy Spirit living in us, we are not fulfilling our purpose. Nothing is more disappointing that an empty wineskin.