New Wine in Old Wine Skins

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”—Luke 5.36-39This week, I’d like to contrast two ways that I often see folks responding to “Jesus” and His ethical teachings today when something Jesus taught challenges their present paradigm.

The first is the way of continuity. In other words, Jesus is not really bringing anything new to the table. If we feel He is bringing something new, it is simply that Jesus is correcting a present day application of the same old ethics as long ago. This view has its advantages for sure; the ethics of the Biblical narrative, in this view, have an unchanging quality. They belong to a consistent whole, a narrative that is seamless. And, on a very surface level, it gives folks a strange sense of security.

What are the pitfalls with this way of responding to Jesus’ teachings when they challenge a previously held paradigm of ours? Well, for starters, the Bible-believing dwellers in the Southeastern region of the United States in the late 19th century used this view to justify simultaneously possessing both a ticket to heaven and slaves. This so-called continuity view also enables some more marginal religious groups to practice polygamy, believing they are well within the boundaries of Biblical ethics. Although not Christian, this way of looking at a sacred text also allows those following the religion of Islam to still practice a modern-day version of stoning. And it allows some Bible-believing Christians today to practice a sanctified, patriarchal and mild form of misogyny. At the very minimum, the continuity view restricts Jesus from truly ever challenging our deeply held paradigms. The best we ever really get from Jesus is either a pat on the back that we have it all right, or simply a “tune-up” of our already smoothly running theological systems—but never do we become fundamentally different. God simply becomes, for us, the justification for our social dysfunctions.

But look again at Jesus’ words in Luke 5.36-39:

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”

There are three things I want you to notice about this passage.

First, the piece from the new garment is incompatible with the old one.

Second, new wine doesn’t work in an old wine skin, or it bursts the old one and you lose the new wine.

Third, Jesus was lamenting that when faced with the option of the new wine He was offering in contrast to the “old” ways, no one really wanted this “new” stuff Jesus was teaching. For whatever reason, they were too content with the old. And really, no one who is accustomed to aged wine says the new is better. Jesus laments this reality again in Luke 16.16 when he states, “The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is attacking it.”

What is the alternate way of relating to Jesus and His ethical teachings when they challenge our favorite paradigms? I call this way of looking at the ethical teachings throughout the narrative of the scriptures the trajectory view. In this view, one looks at the narrative of the Scriptures as a story in which God is meeting people within their own cultures where they are, then slowly and patiently leading them along a trajectory as fast as they can be changed without pushing them too far too fast and ending up rejecting God altogether. A great illustration of this view is the fact that I have a five-year-old, a ten-year-old and a sixteen-year-old. I have taught my five-year-old not to talk to strangers. But with my ten-year-old and my sixteen-year-old, I’m teaching both of them, in ways that are appropriate to where they are in their own developmental growth, how to reach out safely and effectively and talk to the strangers that they do meet. And even between my ten-year-old and my sixteen-year-old, there are differences between even them. Now, there is no way to harmonize the “no talking to strangers” rule with the “how to talk with strangers” rule within a continuity way of looking at my parenting because they present a brazen contradiction. But when one views my parenting along the trajectory view—that I am teaching my children according to where they are and what they can safely do—then it all begins to make sense. What I’m teaching my five-year-old is not the way I want it to always be. It is only temporary. It’s what he needs now, but it will not be what I dream for him in the long run.

Look at this, if you will:

No one who has been EMASCULATED BY CRUSHING OR CUTTING may enter the assembly of the LORD . . . No AMMONITE OR MOABITE OR ANY OF THEIR DESCENDANTS may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation . . . Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them AS LONG AS YOU LIVE. (Deuteronomy 23.1-6)

Now this:

Let NO foreigners who have bound themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let NO eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the LORD says: “To the EUNUCHS who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—TO THEM I will give WITHIN MY TEMPLE and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And FOREIGNERS who bind themselves to the LORD TO MINISTER TO HIM, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy IN MY HOUSE of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be ACCEPTED on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for ALL NATIONS.” (Isaiah 56.3-7)

There is no way to harmonize these two passages according to the continuity view. But harmony can be found—if one adopts a trajectory view.

On an ethical scale of 1 to 10, let’s image that Jehovah is trying to get people at various times and through various ways, to move from maybe point 1 to 2, or 2 to 3, or 3 to 4. I would be detrimental to see any point from 2 to 9 as the revelation of who God really is and the ethics He wants us to ultimately live by. Granted, “9” would be a lot closer to an accurate understanding of God and His character than “2” per se, but even “9” is not a full “10.”

The people in Moses’ day were moving, let’s say, from 1 to 2, while Jesus came to show us what a full-blown 10 looks like. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the contrast between Jesus’ new wine of nonviolence and the golden rule, and the old wine of commanded violence and the eye-for-an-eye way of doing life.

Old wine:

Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures a neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. (Leviticus 24.17-21)

New wine:

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5.38-39)

Old wine:

Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred. (Psalms 139.21-22)

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3.8)

New wine:

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor [fellow Israelite, see Leviticus 19.18] and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies. (Matthew 5.43-44)

Jesus said it best:

I give you a NEW commandment, that you love one another, JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. (John 13.34)

Jesus challenges us, calling us to become more like the Father than ever! Yes, he had been guiding us at each step of the way, all along the ethical trajectory that he has had us on. But now he is calling us even higher. Further up and further in, as C.S. Lewis put it, “so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5.45) Yes, God has spoken to us through the old prophets at various times and in multiple ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, Jesus, who gives us the exact image of what God is really like. (See Hebrews 1.1-3 cf. John 14.9.)

Jesus is calling us to accept not just his new wine, but also new wine skins to hold the new wine, so that we may participate—not in a path that leads to this world being destroyed, but to participate in, even if by fire, his saving and restoration of Eden, the coming of the Bar Enasha, the full unobstructed reign of His Kingdom, on earth as it is in Heaven. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world, through him, might be saved.” (John 3.17)

New wine simply won’t work in the old wine skins. You can’t incorporate it into your present way of looking at things. The new wine doesn’t conform to the old wine. They are both different. They belong to the same trajectory, but they are different. Jesus’ new wine is the final advancement along the trajectory of being restored into the image of God, which was almost wholly lost among mortals. We must not only allow Jesus to give us new wine, but also new paradigms for those ethical teachings to grow in as well.

HeartGroup Application:

1.Take some time to see if you can find your own examples of the ethical trajectory that we find in the narrative of the Bible. See if you can also find examples of where Jesus was moving us into a more full “Father-like” way of doing life. We already mentioned quite a few in this eSight. Look at aspects of the old laws; look at Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos; also look at Jesus. The ones that are obvious to us today are things such as slavery, polygamy, Israel having a king, violence, nationalism, patriarchy, etc.

2.Write down and prepare to share what you find with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

3.Share with your HeartGroup and be willing to openly discuss your findings.

May Jesus give us all new wineskins this week as we seek to follow Him more fully in the way that leads to life, and life to the full…until the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys. We’ll see you next week.

Jesus and Lex Talionis

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”—Jesus, Matthew 7.12-14I want to take you on what will seem like a detour this week. It will seem like this is completely off topic, but I’m hoping you will see the relevance of this next passage to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (Moses, Exodus 21.7-11)

Sexual slavery, or being sold to become a wife, was common in the ancient world. The taking of multiple wives was also condoned and recorded many times throughout the Old Testament (Ex. 21:10; Dt. 21:15; Gn. 25:1; cf. 1Ch. 1:32; Gn. 30:4; 31:17; cf. Gn. 35:22; 2Sam. 12:11; cf. 2Sam. 20:3; Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 273). An Israelite father could sell his unmarried daughters into servitude, with the understanding that the master or his son would eventually marry her. Jewish and Christian commentators alike agree that this referred to the sale of a daughter, who “is not arrived to the age of twelve years and a day” and that this sale was the result of poverty (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible; Exodus 21:7).

Here is the million-dollar question this week: Can we allow an Old Testament Jehovah to permit this detestable practice for a time, reforming a cultural practice rather than abolishing it, if that is what it takes for a culture to embrace a “Deity” who will eventually, in the long run, radically change them entirely? Do not misunderstand me. The trafficking of a young girl is truly horrific. Even worse is the realization that once she turns twelve, she becomes one of the wives of the man she was sold to, or possibly one of the wives of his sons. There is no way to justify this. But again, there is the question: Can we accept Jehovah meeting people within their culture, or even meeting their expectations of what He should be like? Can we not accept that He is moving them, patiently, slowly, away from their horrific practices, through years of growth and development, until at last they can understand Him and become a people that will rightly proclaim how He truly is?

As we all know, if you want to get any culture to “follow you,” if you want the people in that culture to change, then you cannot simply come in and bulldoze over their way of life. You must work with them, not against them; you must slowly transform them, little by little, into something other than what they were when you found them. Far from Exodus 21.7-11 being a revelation of what God is really like, it is rather a reflection of what the people God was trying to reach were like. If you want to find out what God is really like, Exodus 21.7-11 is not the place to look. Where are we then to look? I submit to you: Jesus.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at multiple times and in multiple personalities [jealous, petty, unjust, unforgiving, controlling, vindictive, bloodthirsty, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and THE EXACT REPRESENTATION OF HIS BEING….” (Hebrews 1.1-3)

So radical was this revelation of God in Jesus that even the apostle John, who was raised with Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, wrote: “No one has ever seen God till they met this Jesus” (see John 1.18).

And yet Jesus himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (see John 14.9).

So what does this have to do with our topic this week?

I want to look at the concept of lex talionis. Lex talionis is Latin for the “law of retaliation.” It encompasses the broad class of legal systems that specify formulaic penalties for specific crimes, which are thought to be fitting in their severity. Some propose that this was intended, at least in part, to prevent excessive punishment at the hands of either an avenging party or the state. The most common expression of lex talionis is “an eye for an eye”; however, lex talionis does not refer to exclusively literal eye-for- eye codes of justice, but to an entire legal system labeled as “penal,” or a form of justice that is punitive.

Jesus taught:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not use retaliation, even if it has been authorized by your law, against an evil person. Instead, if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your Chiton, hand over your Himation as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you [even if you are on the verge of the Jubilee] You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your fellow Israelite and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies too! And pray for those who even persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5.38-45, personal paraphrase. For a fuller exposition of Jesus’ teachings in this passage see The Way of Peace (Arizona) at

Jesus sought to lead us away from doing life via lex talionis to what others have called “The Golden Rule.”

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you [The Golden Rule]; for this was the intended goal of where the law and the prophets were always headed. Enter then through the narrow gate of the golden rule; for the gate of lex talionis is wide and the road of lex talionis is easy, but it leads to the whole world being blind, toothless and annihilated, and there are many who are presently on that path. For the gate of the Golden Rule is narrow and this road is hard but it leads to life, and there are so few presently who have discovered it and are traveling on it.” (Matthew 7.12-14, personal paraphrase)

Other great people have made statements similar to what we find in Matthew 7:

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

“And then the whole world would be blind and toothless” (Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof).

The question I want you to consider this week is: Does lex talionis manifest the character of the God we see in Jesus? Or do we, in lex talionis, find the Jehovah of the Old Testament doing the same things we found Him doing with the other temporary cultural accommodations such as slavery, polygamy, the mistreatment of women, race-based preferential treatment, nationalism, genocidal violence, and even Israel having a King?

It’s a question worth asking. In seeking to answer that question, what I find ironic is that the Christian Church, as a result of the Constantinian Shift, in the fourth century reintroduced capital punishment (burning heretics at the stake, a form of lex talionis) against sinners. This should be contrasted with the abandonment of capital punishment (the Old Testament stoning prescriptions) by the disciples of Jesus during the first three centuries of Christian history. Israel definitely practiced capital punishment. The new Israel of the first century, defined as those who were endeavoring to follow Jesus, did not. It seems that the church, following the teachings of Jesus after His death, abandoned “eye for an eye” ethics, only to reinstate those ethics once Christianity and Empire became wedded under Constantine.

Something to ponder for sure!

HeartGroup Application

1.Go back to Matthew 7.12-14. Spend some time each day this week meditating on what it means for the rule of “doing to others what you would have them do to you” being the narrow gate, and “eye for an eye” being the broad path that leads to destruction for all.

2.Write down any thoughts, questions, insights, or inspiration Jesus gives you during your daily time with Him and this topic.

3.Share what you discover this next week with your HeartGroup.

Whether lex talionis can be explained as accommodation or not, we can’t live a life based simultaneously on both lex talionis and the Golden Rule. To the degree that we practice the Golden Rule, we will not, by definition, be practicing lex talionis. Instead, we will practice the way of forgiveness and love. Jesus showed us it is one or the other. He gave us three examples in Matthew 5.38-45 of what the Golden Rule looks like. My prayer for all of us, myself included, is that Jesus will help us learn how this way of salvation, restoration and redemption appears in our daily lives. There are no formulas. No three-step plans. But as we walk with Jesus as His disciples, allowing Him to teach us, I am assured He will be guiding us along the correct path. We will return to this topic in the future. May our understanding, as well as our practice, continue to deepen as we daily seek to follow The Way.

Keep living in love, following the example of the Truth and Grace we see in the life of Jesus. Until the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys.

We’ll see you next week.

Advocacy vs. Accusation

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

—Jesus, John 14.16I find it interesting that the word Jesus used to refer to the Spirit is Advocate. This is the word John uses for Jesus in 1 John 2.1:

1 John 2.1: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

This is an intentional contrast to the word accuser (a synonym for Satan), which John purposefully uses in Revelation 12.10:

Revelation 12.10: For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

It seems quite clear that the work of “the Satan” is to accuse. The work of the Spirit and anyone who is energized by the Spirit is to be an advocate for those being accused.

I want to remind you of the story John also tells in John 8 about a woman who, he says, was caught “in the very act” of adultery. Pay close attention to the contrast between the role of the Pharisees in railing against this woman and the gentle but firm role Jesus plays by kneeling down alongside the naked woman and drawing attention away from her to what he was drawing in the sand. (We have no idea what it really was; if it were important, John would have told us.) Then Jesus speaks the words, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.” Stop for a moment and ask yourself what is going on.

It’s the oldest phenomenon in human social history. The Romans are oppressing Israel. Any time people are oppressed they grow hungry for the sense of identity that has been stripped from them. They reach out for something to give them value in spite of the dehumanization they have experienced from their oppressors. They grasp for something that will give them worth. The earliest established way for humans to do this is to find a scapegoat. A scapegoat is someone to blame, someone to attack as a common problem, some individual or group that being against will bring unity a sense of identity, and restored meaning to their existence—a group that the community would be better off without. In Jesus’s day, there was a religious group called the Pharisees that was doing this very thing to people they labeled as living “outside the Torah.” The Jews who were not following the teachings of Moses were supposedly the root cause of the oppression they were under by the Romans. And what was the label that the Pharisees gave to these Jews who were not living lives in harmony with the laws of Moses? They called them “sinners.”

Matthew 9.11: When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Luke 7.39: When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Luke 15.1–2: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Luke 19.7: All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Notice they did not use the word sinner the way we do today. But what I also want you to notice is what Jesus was doing that made the Pharisees so upset. Jesus was coming alongside of and advocating for those the Pharisees were endeavoring to rally Israel around as a scapegoat for their humiliating subjugation to Rome.

With the woman caught in adultery, it was the same way. “Are you going to side with us, the followers of the laws of Moses, and stone this woman, or are you going to side with the empire of Rome?” But Jesus chose a third party to come alongside of. He knelt down beside the “sinner,” the “scapegoat,” the ones being marginalized and blamed by the religious leaders of that day.

Is it any different today? Recently I was reminded of the accusing words of Jerry Falwell shortly after 9/11:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”

Pat Robertson concurred at that moment, but since then both have regretted saying this.

I raise this awful memory not as an accusation against these two fellows in the slightest but as a simple example of how easy it is for all Christians to adopt this type of scapegoating mentality. As uncomfortable as it is, we must realize that this is not something done only by Pat and Jerry, but something that too often is done, almost intuitively, by all Christians, myself included.

Just this past summer, at one of the events I was speaking at and also on Twitter and Facebook, I periodically shared one or two sentences about how we, as followers of Jesus, are called to come alongside the marginalized today and like Jesus to be advocates for the ones that others are demanding should be stoned. I said this is true even if the people we are coming alongside of are those society has labeled as LGBT. You would have thought I had committed the unpardonable sin! But is it any different? I’m also reminded this week of Tony Campolo’s words, which I believe are relevant.

“You don’t have to legitimize somebody’s lifestyle to love that person, to be brother or sister to that person, and to stand up for that person.”

—Tony Campolo in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, 2008

But even this, for too many people, goes too far.

Too many Christians today feel they have to choose between the rules and the value of people Jesus died for. I don’t personally believe those two are always necessarily mutually exclusive. But in moments when they do become mutually exclusive, it is quite a paradigm shift to realize that when Jesus did have to choose between the two, he always chose affirming the value of people over protecting the rules (see John 8.1–11; Luke 8.40–47; Acts 10.28), and that is what got him murdered (see John 11.50).

Jesus walked the earth in the radical, extravagant, “dangerous” favor of God. He practiced a boundary-pushing, law-challenging, line-crossing, Pharisee-infuriating, radical favor and inclusivity. And the question we have to answer is, “Do we?”

In our day we could talk about any number of marginalized groups, some of which are being marginalized by Americanized, Westernized Christianity. But in light of the phenomenon of scapegoating, the work of the Satan as an accuser, and the work of the Spirit as an advocate, which of the marginalized is Jesus asking you to come along beside and be an advocate for today?

HeartGroup Application

1.I want you to ponder this week how Jesus was an Advocate for those living outside the laws of Moses in light of these two texts:

John 14.9–10: Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

John 5.19: Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

2.Write down what this means to you to actually begin seeing the Father as the greatest Advocate for “sinners” against the spirit of the Accuser anytime it rears its ugly head. What does it do inside of you to see the Father as coming alongside you to defend you against your accusers? And lastly write down any changes this causes you to want to make in your own life as you allow the three Advocates we have (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to use your life as a conduit to be an advocate for those being marginalized and scapegoated in our society today.

3.Discuss openly and respectfully with your HeartGroup what each of you wrote down, and then covenant together to become a group that is characterized by being advocates for “sinners” rather than accusers.

Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns, keep enlarging Christ’s Kingdom in the here and in the now. Come, Lord Jesus! Long live the revolution!

I love you guys,

We’ll see you next week.