The rabbis of old had a saying, “Without wine, there is no joy”. This was especially true at a wedding. In the 1st century, weddings were a big deal and often accompanied by multiple days of gift giving and speechmaking. Plates were kept full and the wine kept flowing. Perhaps this is the reason Mary turned to Jesus after the third day of a wedding celebration to say, “They have no more wine”. Wine was the equivalent of wedding cake and running out was a major faux pas. What would Jesus do?
John would later record this story and the miracle that followed in John 2:6. He writes, “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.” A few verses later Jesus turned all 180 gallons of water into new wine. I did the math and that’s the equivalent of 908 bottles of wine. Perhaps a few guests started singing, “908 bottles of wine on the wall, 908 bottles of wine. Take one down, pass it around, 907 bottles of wine on the wall.”
Jesus offers new wine. But there is more to the story.
Most weddings would begin with the choice wine. The Mad Dog 20/20 was held in reserve. But in this story Jesus transforms the water into the finest of wines, perhaps a French Bordeaux valued at $500 a bottle. The master of the banquet had one taste and cried out, “you have saved the best until now!” The symbolism is clear. Not only does Jesus offer new wine. He offers the best wine. He is the best wine. The arrival of the Messiah meant the new wine of the gospel. You have saved the best until now.
Perhaps 2020 was a crushing year for you and rather than joy and celebration, you find yourself running out of wine. Maybe you are tired, confused, anxious, and uncertain of the future. Maybe your vision is fuzzy and you desperately need Jesus to turn the water of 2020 into new wine in 2021. Do you need Him to renew your passion for the gospel, your dependence on the Spirit, and your faith in miracles? Do you need new wine?
If so, new wine will require new wineskins.
In Luke 5, a group of religious people express their frustration with Jesus. They resent his grace-filled approach and as he is partying with Matthew and his sinful friends, they attack him and accuse him of all sorts of things. Why isn't he following the rules and regulations of their laws? Why isn't he obeying the man-made systems they have put into place? Why is he associating with sinners? Jesus responds by saying,
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”
New wine requires new wineskins. The new wine is eternal and comes from God. New wineskins are temporary and are created by us. In his book The Problem of Wineskins, Howard Snyder writes, “As time passes wineskins must be replaced, not because the gospel changes, but because the gospel itself demands and produces change. New wine must be put into new wineskins, not once-for-all, but repeatedly, periodically.”
The old wineskins can’t hold the new wine.
If we want to receive the new wine of 2021, we must be willing to create new wineskins. We must be attentive to the Spirit and willing to adapt in order to hold the new wine he is serving. Perhaps God wants to do something new in your life and ministry in 2021 and the challenges of 2020 have prepared you for this exact moment in time. Are you willing to change wineskins? If not, you may miss out on all God wants to do. There is a popular worship song titled "New Wine" that expresses this idea in its lyrics,
In the crushing In the pressing You are making new wine In the soil I now surrender You are breaking new ground
So I yield to You into Your careful hand When I trust You I don't need to understand
So make me Your vessel Make me an offering Make me whatever You want me to be
I came here with nothing But all You have given me Jesus, bring new wine out of me
This is the cry of any man or woman or church willing to do whatever it takes to allow God’s new wine to flow. I believe this is the heart God is looking for in 2021. It is a heart willing to yield and trust and fashion itself into the vessel God wants them to be. Unfortunately, I've come to realize over the years that not everyone is willing to change wineskins. In fact, there are those that don't even desire the new wine. In Luke 5:39 Jesus reaffirms this idea by telling the Pharisees,
"And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better".
There are plenty of people and numerous churches that simply long for the old wine. Their longing is for the familiar taste of the way things used to be. Human nature often desires what is comfortable and predictable. “The old is better”, people say. But is it?
The new wine may not be as smooth to the tongue and as finely aged as the old. It may be a bit sharp and unrefined. But it is alive. It is active. It is the new thing God is doing and it can't be contained it in old structures. New wineskins must be formed to contain all God wants to do. So what does this mean specifically?
I see the application of this passage on both a personal level and a corporate level and we need to wrestle with both.
On a personal level, we need to wrestle with the way our lives are structured. Already in 2021, I’m reordering my wineskins to be more receptive. I’m trying to wake up earlier, spend more time with God, walk my neighborhood in prayer, and intentionally live with greater boldness in public. I'm searching my heart and my mind to see what thoughts and desires need challenged or adjusted. I don’t want to miss the new wine of 2021 and if Jesus is directing me to change, I need to be willing to do it. To quote the song, “Make me whatever You want me to be.”
But this teaching also has a corporate dimension and may convict us when it comes to the structures and methodology of the church. In the first century, when the Spirit poured out of heaven, a different sociological structure was needed to house the new wine. Perhaps in 2021 as Covid-19 continues to impact our society, we need to think long and hard about the wineskins of our churches. Is it possible, God wants to pour out new wine but our existing wineskins, the organizational patterns and programming and approaches to church won't contain it? What might God be calling you to do differently in 2021? How might this teaching impact your personal wineskins or the wineskins of your church?
The final lyrics to the worship song reflect that outpouring,
Cause where there is new wine There is new power There is new freedom And the Kingdom is here I lay down my old flames To carry Your new fire today.
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins.”
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