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New Wineskins for New Wine (Luke 5:33-39)

Luke presents Jesus as one who is fulfilling God’s promises of old. Jesus’ family and John’s family were not law-breakers but law-keepers — circumcising, sacrificing, and participating in Israel’s feasts. He is not novel, but he is indeed doing a new thing that is based on an old thing. Redemptive history is taking a massive step forward towards the marriage of God with his people as Jesus steps on the scene. With a new step in redemptive history come new practices. Jesus’ is not trashing the law, but bringing it to its intended completion. But Jesus’ new practices for a new place in redemptive history was pretty disturbing to many Jews in Jesus’ day.


Our text at the end of Luke 5 is in the center of five accounts where Jesus acts in a new way to meet the new situation and in each of the five accounts Jesus is resisted by the Pharisees and their scribes. In the beginning, they are annoyed at Jesus. By the end, they are ready to hurt him.


Our controversy arises because of a question about fasting. By the end, we will clearly see that this is not only about fasting but about how Jesus’ coming must radically alter our habits and rituals.  Notice 5:33-35.


Fasting With the Bridegroom? (vs. 33-35)

One day, Levi said he was done collecting taxes for Rome and he left his job — everything — behind. Then he threw a great feast with Jesus as the guest of honor with many tax collectors and sinners there.  They were radically altering their lives to follow Jesus. This is a problem. (1) Jesus is hanging around people who have had bad reputations. (2) Jesus and his followers are feasting — not fasting — something scribes, Pharisees, and even John the Baptist’s disciples did. To understand why they are so alarmed, we have to understand why they fasted.


Fasting is what believers did to bring their body into sync with unpleasant or difficult realities.  You do not feast when everything is wrong. When Americans are depressed, most of us want to binge food and TV — which, however funny this may seem, it is completely unhelpful. We have freedom in Christ, but we are called to use that freedom with wisdom. We joke about depressed binges because we realize how unhealthy it is — everything is bad, but instead of praying through that reality, I’m denying it with the narcotic effect of ice cream and Hulu. 


So fasting is what believers did and should do to bring their bodies into sync with unpleasant and difficult realities. Has sin been uncovered in your life or in your community? It’s not time to eat a ribeye and as if everything is okay, it’s time to fast and pray. Has someone near you just come down with a critical illness? All hope is not lost —  it’s time to fast and pray. Has someone suddenly and tragically died? Don’t cover up the horror with food — fast and pray. Are you about to begin a difficult task for God’s kingdom? Or embark on a dangerous journey? Or begin a new stage in life? Make your body feel how weak and unable you truly are to control the outcome — and pair that fasting with prayer that calls upon God from a humbled body and soul. 


But, most relevant here: many regularly fasted because of the nation’s sins, because of God’s lack of presence, and because of the unfulfilled nature of God’s promises. Just three chapters earlier we are introduced to a precious old woman named Anna. She was a prophetess and had been a widow for decades. She stayed in the temple day and night worshipping with fasting and prayer: anxiously awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. We look at that today and we may think, “What a waste of a life! She needs to go get married, get some ice cream, and discover the joys of daytime television. Wait for God with a bag of Cheetos on your couch!” But no, she waited for God on her hands and knees in the temple, often with an empty stomach that reflected the emptiness of her heart, the emptiness of the temple, and the emptiness of Jerusalem. 


God’s promises were unfulfilled which meant Jerusalem was still an adulteress who had been sent away. God had promised he would return and be joined in marriage to his land and to his people. Where was the bridegroom of Israel? And so Anna set up camp at the door of God’s throne — worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. But then baby Jesus  — the hope of Jerusalem and of the world — arrived at the temple. She began giving thanks to God and speaking of Jesus to everyone who was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.


Fast-forward thirty years. It was time for  the God of Israel — the bridegroom — to make himself more fully known and to do his work. This common man from nowhere in Nazareth steps on the scene and he heals a lame man and forgives his sins, feasts with repentant sinners, plucks grain and heals on the Sabbath. The Pharisees fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays to intercede for the people of Israel and beg God their bridegroom to return. The disciples of John did similarly. Jesus and his disciples ate and drank. I can count eight times in Luke where it talks about Jesus at a meal. Later, they mock him as a glutton and a drunkard (though he wasn’t).


So, they want to know why aren’t you guys fasting? His reply is simple. “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” Has anyone here ever been told to stay away from the food at the wedding? No way. It’s time to rejoice and feast with the bridegroom. If they had ears to hear it, Jesus is making the massive claim that the God — the bridegroom — of Israel who had divorced his people was back in the person of Jesus. It wasn’t time to fast and mourn as if redemptive history was at a standstill and as if their bridegroom was hidden from them. He was right there in front of them. Yes, sadly, the bridegroom would be taken from them in time and they would return to their fasting (let the church understand). But right now? The answer to their fasting and prayers was right in front of them. It was time to feast.


Mixing New and Old? (vs. 36-38)

Jesus wants to make sure they understand the point that their practices must change to match their new situation, so he tells them two parables. Notice verse 36. Has anyone here ever gone to the store to buy nice new clothes and then ripped a portion of them off and sown it on to old ratty clothing? No. That would be ridiculous. Not only will you ruin your new clothes, the new piece doesn’t match the old piece. You don’t mix new and old. 


Jesus offers a similar parable in verses 37-38. They usually stored wine in lambskins or goatskins. As the grape juice — the new wine — fermented the skin would stretch and expand because of the release of gasses. No one would ever store new wine in old wineskins — the brittle fibers of the old skin wouldn’t be able to handle the expansion and it would burst. You’d lose both the new wine and the old wineskins. New wine must be put in new wineskins.


The arrival of Jesus — the God and bridegroom of Israel — is new clothes and new wine and you cannot try to put what is new into what is old. They don’t match. You will lose both the old and the new when you do this. The advent of Jesus is a new situation that demands a new attitude and new practices to fit the new situation. Fasting completely ruins the practice of fasting (the old). It causes them to miss the amazing new reality they could be enjoying: the bridegroom is here and it is time to enjoy a foretaste of that end times feast in God’s kingdom. Fasting with Jesus in front of you is like fasting at a wedding, like ripping up new clothes to repair old clothes, and like putting new wine in old wineskins.


Notice Jesus’ conclusion in verse 39 with a cynical evaluation of how many were reacting to the new wine of the bridegroom’s return.


Everyone’s Stuck on Old Wine (vs. 39)

The sad reality is that everyone in Jesus’ day was perfectly happy with their old wine and they had no desire for new wine. Though they fasted and prayed like they wanted God’s presence and promises to return, they were happy with their old situation and their old rituals and routines. They loved their old wine so much that they simply had no desire for the new wine Jesus brought.


The Need for New Wineskins

At first glance, this text may seem to have no bearing on us. “Those Pharisees and followers of John were always obsessed with their rituals even once they had become meaningless.” We may look at ourselves and say, “All good! I would never be pharisaical or ritualistic. Rituals are an Old Law thing, but we are in the new way of the loosey goosey Spirit — I just do what I want when I want.” But that thinking is foolishness — it misunderstands both the old and the new. 


Ritual is a religious word for routine or habit. And by that definition, we all have rituals — some of them are just pretty lame. Some of them are just centered on an old world, an old reality, an old way of thinking and living.


Where are we in redemptive history? What is our situation? The bridegroom came and inaugurated God’s kingdom. Now that he has left to reign from heaven, he has sent us his Holy Spirit to infuse us with the new life and energy of God’s kingdom. God’s Spirit is in us to produce in us the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. God’s Spirit has put the truth in our minds and mouths through the preaching of the apostles and prophets. God’s kingdom has come, but it is still coming. Revelation depicts us as the royal army of priests who reign on the earth to witness to the truth: that God and the Lamb reign and they are to be worshipped, not anyone or anything else. The people have been deceived by the dragon and his lamb-like beast to worship themselves, their idols, and the beast. They do not acknowledge the true God. But Jesus has died to ransom us — his enemies — and to make us his priests so that we might go into the world and witness to the truth to the neighbors we are supposed to love so much that we would die to bring them out of darkness and lies. 


Our situation is not as simple as old or new. We live in the mixed reality of the now but not yet. The Lamb has conquered and reigns on the throne and that is cause for rejoicing and for feasting every Lord’s day. But the kingdom of the world has not become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Everything is not alright in the world. There is injustice and death, there is impurity, there is rejection of the true king, there is all manner of foolishness. And so while we rejoice, it is also time for fasting, prayer, vigilance, and bold proclamation of the truth.


The world is stuck on old rituals and old wine — either unwilling or unable to recognize the new wine of Jesus. We have to help them get off that old bottle and get in with the new — not the new way of the enlightenment with a humanistic belief that everything get’s better with technology. No, the new wine of Jesus.


Everyone is stuck on old wine with old habits — are we? Let’s consider how we spend our time — what the aim of our lives are. What are our rituals? What do we do when we wake up? How do we spend our evenings? What do we do when we are around others? 


I think there’s three possibilities. (1) Our ritual is a complete lack of ritual - no plan, who cares? (2) We have purposely ordered our lives with rituals and habits that make no sense of our place in God’s kingdom — new wine, old wineskins. (3) We have purposely ordered our lives with rituals and habits that make sense of our being the priests of God’s coming kingdom.


Are we willing to give up our old practices that make no sense of our identity and situation? If not, we are the ritualistic Pharisees trying to ferment new wine in old wineskins.


Many in the world could care less about your new wine because they like their old wine and old life just how it is. Don’t give up on them. Many Pharisees and priests eventually got on with the new wine. But also, don’t let their rejection discourage you. There are plenty out there who realize that their old wine isn’t cutting it, and they would completely reorder their lives at the chance to have wine that is actually new.


But if we are going to help get people off the old, we have to actually invite them into a life that is actually new. Everyone today is selling old wine marked with a “new wine” label and people are exhausted with the fakes and frauds. We can’t just invite them to buy the label, but we have to show them how to put on new clothes and drink new wine in new wineskins. We need to invite them into a community of Christ-followers who read their Bibles more than their phones and TVs, who love the truth, who worship God with all their hearts, who aren’t selfish or materialistic, who rejoice when they suffer, who share with the poor, who visit the hurting, who have one another in their homes to sit at tables and rejoice in the God’s blessings, and who have a real concrete hope that is evident even in the deepest pain and suffering.


I hope we will see this morning that our old wineskins have burst and we have lost the new wine. We cannot have or taste the new wine of Jesus without new wineskins. It is time for new practices that match our identity as his army of priests and martyrs witnessing to the truth unto death. This does not mean we do not sit down at tables and enjoy food, family, and friends. It means we do that with purpose and for a different reason. It does not even mean we cannot occasionally watch a movie. It means we aren’t addicted to entertainment. But who cares when we have new wine and new clothes? Why try to hold onto as much of the old as possible?


We live in a perfect time to go get some new wineskins. Our lives have been upended for the past 13 months. We have a unique opportunity to take a step back and say, “Some of these old clothes have never matched where we are in history and who God has made me to be. It’s time for new clothes and new practices for a new situation.”

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