They weren’t crazy about John’s message, but his methods, at least, seemed in line. The amount of time spent in fasting by his disciples seemed consistent with what righteousness demanded. And they were seen offering prayers in the temple often enough that, while they might be somewhat over-the-top in terms of their emphasis on repentance, at least they were still in line with what was deemed as being right and responsible. Yes, in the Pharisee’s estimation, the actions of John disciples, like theirs, were in line with what you’d expect of good, God-fearing followers.
But Jesus’ disciples! What was up with them?
Instead of fasting and prayer, followers of Jesus were marked as those who were out eating and drinking. Instead of parading themselves into the temple or preening themselves on the street corner, as did the religious elite, Jesus’ people were more often at banquets hosted by tax collectors and such. Rather than making sure people saw them turning down the ends of the mouths to indicate how hungry they were, or lifting up their hands to indicate how pious they were, the followers of Jesus were more often overflowing in conversation about how the kingdom had come. Why?
“No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” ~ Jesus
(Luke 5:37-38 ESV)
There would be a time for fasting, Jesus said, but not while the bridegroom was still with his invited guests. There would be a time for sober reflection–not to evidence personal holiness but to supplicate for great revival.
In fact, what Jesus was bringing would not fit in the box of law that the Pharisees were preaching. Jesus would fulfill the law, but His good news of salvation through faith alone could not be crammed into any legal framework. God’s grace would be unconnected with man’s goodness. His mercy couldn’t be yoked to their merit. The way of unmerited favor just wouldn’t fit within the works of unregenerate fervor.
You can’t put new wine into old wineskins. And Jesus was bringing new wine.
New wine must be put into new wineskins. The way of grace has no place within the confines of the law. Instead, grace requires a new container, a new context. One in which it’s effervescence and effluence can freely bubble over and flow out. The recipients of grace no longer confined by their ability, or lack thereof, to keep the law, but instead released with the freedom and power of the Spirit to live beyond the law.
The keeping of the law no longer a requirement but now, instead, a response. Praying, not to be deemed worthy and thus accepted by a distant God on a burning mountain, but to boldly enter before the throne of God because they have been declared worthy–holy and righteous, in Christ–and invited to draw near. Fasting, not to attract the attention of men, but to deeply abide in the presence of God.
Not following the law in order to make the grade, but walking in righteousness because, by faith, they have become new creations in Christ now able to participate in the divine nature. Not without failure, but confident in the finished work of the cross and the faithfulness of the God who says that if we confess our sins, He will forgive us our sins and, through the blood of Christ, cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
There’s just too much power in this new wine to be contained in those old wineskins. Too much life to be lived to be hamstrung by a law that can only bring about death. Too much hope to pursue to have it crushed under the weight of heavy burden. Too great a family to be enjoyed for it to be lost amidst formalities of pious propriety.
Old wineskins simply cannot contain the living water Jesus said would be flowing out of the hearts of His followers (Jn. 7:38). The Spirit of God bursting the old, worn skins of religion. Freedom finding expression that destroys legalism.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
(Galatians 5:1 ESV)
A new wine through the cross. A new way in Christ.
New wineskins reflecting His grace. Fresh wineskins declaring His glory.