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.