So, one thing has led to another at Deeper Life Fellowship, the wonderful church that I am privileged to pastor. What began about three months ago as a one-part sermon on the nature of revelation, became a multi-week series in the parables of Jesus to see how revelation happens. Then, wouldn’t you know it, when we began to read the parables through the lenses of Kingdom and sonship, we couldn’t help but notice that almost everything Jesus taught found its home base in the fact that the He was fulfilling the Old Covenant and bringing in a New Covenant. And now we have been sucked up into a vortex of mind- and spirit-blowing revelations about what Jesus was really saying, that we had no idea about before. Which brings us to today’s point: I know what the wineskins are.
For years now, I have heard people from every stream of the Body of Christ expound with great passion on what a new wineskin is, based on this verse:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new patch pulls away from the old cloth, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost as well as the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22)
If you do a quick search on amazon.com for books with the word “wineskin” in the title, you will get 211 results. On the first page of 12 results, 10 of those are about new ways of doing church, one has something to do with Jewish power in Europe, and one is about Catholic sexual ethics. Did you hear the first part? Ten out of twelve, or 83% of them, define “new wineskin” in context of changing church structures. I think I can make a pretty good case that church staff organization and how we determine the flow of our worship services in a new techno-society is not what Jesus had in mind. Let’s look at what happened in the verses just prior to Mark 2:21-22.
“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. People came and asked Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the groom is with them, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they cannot fast. But the time will come when the groom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:18-20)
Basically, here’s the scene: Some people were asking Jesus, “How come John’s disciples and the Pharisees keep the Mosaic Law, but your guys don’t?” Jesus’ response, put simply, was, “Because John’s disciples and the Pharisees are still doing stuff trying to bring in the Kingdom of God, but what my guys get is that the Kingdom is already here, and they are just celebrating that reality.” Plus, any time Jesus starts using weddings and grooms as illustrations, you know that He is saying something about the initiation of a covenant. In other words, Jesus was saying that His disciples were already experiencing, at least to some degree, what the Mosaic Law was pointing forward to—the arrival of the Messiah who would be the embodiment of the perfectly fulfilled Law. But He doesn’t stop there. He uses another illustration, the one quoted above from verses 21 and 22 to help make His point.
So if I may paraphrase again, here’s how that goes: “Nobody tries to patch an old garment with new cloth because when the new cloth shrinks, it will tear the garment and you have to throw both away. Also, you can’t put new wine into old, brittle wineskins because the new wine is still putting off expanding gases, and the old wineskin will break under the pressure, and you will lose the old wineskin and the new wine.”
If Jesus, then, was saying this in context of a discussion about the relevance of the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law), this is how we might say it: “You guys are still trying to hold onto the Old Covenant rules and regulations, but I’m bringing something that has so much life, that the old system can’t hold it. Not only that, but if you try to contain the New Covenant inside the Old, you will end up losing both of them!”
The old wineskin and new wine are not about our ideas of the “new anointing,” or the “new church structure,” or the “new prophetic/apostolic move of Joel’s Army Freedom Fighters and Global Intercessory Activators.” It is about the same thing that has been the downfall of the Church since the first century—mixing New Covenant Grace with Old Covenant Law. If we do not see the danger in that, we run the very real risk of losing the whole revelation. Want more proof? Look at the next story:
“Now He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a paralyzed hand. In order to accuse Him, they were watching Him closely to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath. He told the man with the paralyzed hand, “Stand before us.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. After looking around at them with anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Immediately the Pharisees went out and started plotting with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” (Mark 3:1-6)
Let’s cut to the proverbial chase. The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus with the Mosaic Law, but Jesus was revealing the heart of the Father who gave the Law. When He saw that they were trying to hijack the very life of God Himself that was operating before their eyes and contain it inside the Old Covenant system, he looked around at them “with anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts…” Wow! Are you kidding me? Do you really want to know what grieves the Holy Spirit? It isn’t saying that swear word that you shouldn’t have said, or watching that movie that you might should not have watched. The thing that brings anger and sorrow into the heart of God is when we have all of the life and grace and power and freedom of Heaven itself in our very midst, but we still operate as if obeying the Law is what pleases God! God forbid!
I love how the Webster Bible translates Galatians 2:21: “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness is [attainable] by the law, then Christ hath died in vain.” That’s a great word—frustrate. So what does all of this mean for our everyday lives? As we will see in the next blog, that is the very thing that made Paul’s head explode.