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New & Old

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. Otherwise, not only will he tear the new, but also the piece from the new garment will not match the old.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, it will spill, and the skins will be ruined.  But new wine should be put into fresh wineskins.  And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better.’”
-Luke 5:36-39 (HCSB)
Photo: Pixabay

There is an observation, that Jesus makes, and that observation is that sometimes, the old containers will not hold the new thing; and some people do not want the new thing, but prefer the old. 

God is a God of the new.  God does new things (Isa. 43:19).  Jesus brought about the new covenant (Jer. 31:31, Lk. 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 8-10).  And in the second to last chapter of the Bible, the new heavens and the new earth and the new Jerusalem are described and God says, "Behold, I make all things new".
 
He does not throw away the old, but renews it.  God also redeems, rebuilds, reforms, and restores.  God transforms people.  Transformed people function differently.  The new wine and the new fabric are the new or renewing work of the kingdom of God.

This parabolic saying about the new and old fabric, new and old wine, and the new and old wineskins  is also found in Matthew and Mark.  But in Luke, we have this last word, where Jesus remarks that, "And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better."

Wineskins were holders of wine, like bottles, in ancient times.  New wine would expand a bit in it's wineskin.  New wineskins were soft and flexible, allowing for expansion.  Once the expansion occurred, the skin would become harder.  If you tried putting new wine in old skins, the new wine would burst the old skins.  That's what Jesus is saying.

Originally, Jesus was saying that his ministry was the new wine, which requires a new wineskin.  It will frankly burst the old.  He comments at the end that older wine does taste better to some people and they have no desire for the new.


We know that Jesus' ministry in word and deed, was out in the open.  He walked from town to town, throughout regions, and ministered even in the temple courtyards.  His "new wine" was on display and flowing, yet some people watched and said, "no" to it.  And that is what this word is about, "the old is better".

How does this apply to today?  If the wineskin signifies the holder of the wine and Jesus is dispensing new wine, we need new wine-holders.  But what does "new" mean?  Jesus inaugurated the new testament, new covenant over 2000 years ago. 

The big new thing, new wine, came in Jesus; so the old holder of the older wine was not going to hold the new wine in Jesus.  On a macro level, we have the old covenant, given through Moses, that we call the Mosaic Covenant; and then the new covenant, given by and through Jesus, called the New Covenant.

But on a micro level, we have a people, at the time of Jesus, who developed a system, a style, a way of life, or an institutionalization of how to live out their lives before God.  On the scene were rabbis, scribes, pharisees, priests, and synagogue rulers who were all functioning in a way, and in different ways, at odds with one another; that were their wineskin, metaphorically, to hold and dispense their expression of religion.

The person who says, "I like my old way.  I am very comfortable in it and have no use for new ways", does not want the new wine.  Another side-note about wine, aged wine, is that it does not last for ever, but does go bad.  It has a shelf-life, like any food.

Jesus is not saying that fads and trends and novelties are where he wants us.  He is saying that it is not good to resist the new and be suspicious of it.  New will not fit in the old.  The holders must be renewed to hold the new and new is good. 

The test for the new is, "Is it true?"  Is it true to the scriptures, not to just how we've always done it or believed it.  Are we willing to be renewed, refreshed, and revived?  Some of us need rebuilding.

The reformation was and is about getting back to the authentic Christian life that we have wandered from, with our traditions, that are our wine holders and dispensers.  The reformation was incomplete under Luther and his friends, but continues today.

Jesus is reforming, restoring, renewing, reviving, and rebuilding his church.  He is still doing the kingdom, with people and building his church.  This is the new wine today.  Our customs, traditions, and well-meaning religious activities often can not handle or hold Jesus' authentic ministry of the kingdom, so we oppose, resist, and reject it.

The New Testament scriptures brilliantly give us this account of people coming into Jesus' authentic life in their lives and working it out together.  I believe there are so many stories and words about the folks who were religious and claimed to follow God and the Bible, yet opposed Jesus and his church, because we would need to see and know about falling into that trap, that is as easy to fall into and be captured by today and it was when Jesus lived, as a man.

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For further reading:
Custom and Command by Stan Firth (paperback), or PDF
The Problem of Wine Skins,   by Howard A. Synder (1975, dated, but timely principles)
Bursting The Wineskins, by Michael Cassidy (1981, historical testimony of personal renewal)

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