Of New Garments, New Wineskins, and New Wine

Chewing on the Pharisees’ confrontation with Jesus at the end of Luke 5 this morning. They’re looking for anything to discredit this upstart Teacher who is calling people–including even tax collectors and sinners–to repentance and to follow Him (5:27-32). Jesus is doing new stuff in radical new ways on an unprecedented new basis, and it’s upsetting their proverbial apple cart of religious tradition.

And they said to Him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink.”

(Luke 5:33 ESV)

And Jesus responds that they’re focused on the wrong stuff. That it is less about what His disciples are doing, and all about who they are following. He is the Bridegroom, come to give Himself to secure a bride, and they are His wedding guests invited to witness and participate in a never before seen, or imagined, act of grace and eternal love. They’re history makers, and the stodgy religious leaders are more concerned that they remain history followers.

And so Jesus speaks to them in three short parables, stories of new clothes, new wineskins, and new wine.

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. . . And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. . . . And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'”

(Luke 5:36-39 ESV)

You don’t patch old garments with new cloth and you certainly don’t cut up a new garment to do it. First, the new cloth isn’t compatible with the old, and what’s more, you’ll disfigure the new garment trying to salvage the old. Fact is, a patch from the new garment isn’t gong to match the old, either in appearance or in durability. Translation: Don’t try and keep self-righteous, law-based living alive by patching it with grace. Don’t try and gussy up self-exaltation with bits of God’s unmerited favor. It’s not going to work. You can’t try and bolster the value of man’s efforts with the gospel of the finished work of Christ. They don’t go together. They’re mutually exclusive. Ain’t gonna happen. Don’t do it.

In fact, it’s like putting new wine into old wineskins. Now I’m not a wine guy, but I know enough that there is a life and vitality with new wine that needs to be contained in order to mature and become the stuff people are willing to pay big bucks for. And old wineskins aren’t going to cut it because . . . well, they’re old. They’re no longer pliable or elastic enough to hold the pressure caused by fermentation. Likewise the old box of religion just can’t withstand the active, living transformation caused by sanctification.

Rules and reg’s don’t cut it when there is a new heart of flesh bursting to live for Christ out of a new love for Christ. Instead it’s the new creation in Christ that’s able to constrain the new wine of Christ-infused righteousness as it matures. No longer in the adherence of the law, but by faith, believing that the work begun by the Spirit can be perfected by the Spirit. No longer measured by self-willed obedience, but now evident in Spirit-empowered response. Shedding the old, worn-out, inflexible ways designed to prevent a “slippery slope,” and instead living within a freedom that makes evident the power of Christ to save to the uttermost.

But the reality is, for many who have tasted the smooth, aged, familiar goodness of the old wine, they’re content with what is “good” and have little energy for taking a risk and venturing into what is “better.” They have little interest in something less tested, less tried, and less predictable. Content with the law, they resist grace. Believing their traditions are good enough, they refuse to venture out and experience what is better, the way of the cross.

“Oh, taste and see,” beckons Jesus to the Pharisees. Reject any idea that a piece of grace slapped on a garment of works somehow makes it better. Be willing to recognize aged and worn traditions for what they are, old wineskins unable to handle the active agency of the living Spirit of God. Having become familiar with the old ways and seeing that they’re good, be willing to walk in the new life of the freedom for which Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1), and find that it’s better.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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