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New Wine into New Wineskins

Matthew 9:14-17

The disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved."

After Jesus called Matthew the tax collector to follow him, Matthew threw a party for all of his friends. Matthew’s party raised questions, not only for the Pharisees, but for the disciples of John the Baptist. They came to Jesus and asked, “How is that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not.” The disciples of John had just witnessed Jesus enjoying himself at a party where there was plenty of food and the wine was flowing freely. They probably resented the fact that they were going without while Jesus was living it up.

Jesus, in turn, asks the disciples of John a question: How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?

Jewish weddings in Jesus’ day consisted of a week-long open house. Weddings were great parties full of rollicking laughter, dancing, plenty of food and drink. These were milestone events—times of celebration that rarely came along for the kind of poor people Jesus hung out with. These wedding parties were paid for by the bridegroom’s family and were open to everyone from the village.

What a description this is of the kingdom Jesus came to usher in. The kingdom of God is like a great wedding party. Jesus has paid the price for all of us to enter into the Father’s joy.

And there is a clear prediction in this same saying of Jesus—a clear prediction of the price he would pay for us to enter into his kingdom joy. “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” Jesus was talking about the time of his crucifixion. The price he paid for us to be able to enter into the wedding feast was his own death. Then would be a time of mourning and fasting, Jesus says. But right now is a time for rejoicing.

One thing is clear: the kingdom that Jesus ushers in is something brand new, not to be mixed with the old. Just as you can’t put new wine in an old wineskin, or an unshrunk patch on an old garment, so too Jesus’ kingdom joy just doesn’t mix with old time religion.

I was born in the 1960’s. It was a time when revolution was in the air. Martin Luther King, Jr. was marching for civil rights. College students were protesting the Vietnam War. It was a time when a new generation wanted to make everything different. Bob Dylan summed it up well when he sang, “The times they are a changing.”

Next year will be another presidential election year. People running for president often promise change. The question is: will it really happen? I’m not so sure it will.

But 2000 years ago when Jesus said the times were changing, they really were. Questions bubbled to the surface when people didn’t see in Jesus and his followers the kind of kingdom movement they expected. Jesus’ answer was, “Look, everything is different now.”

The question for us is: Are we living in that new world ourselves? Or do we keep sidling back to that old world where we feel more comfortable? Are we content with religion that is merely a bunch of rules and regulations? If we are, then some time we have to face the fact that all we are really doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We may have a better view as we go down, but that is all.

Perhaps we identify with Wilbur Rees who wrote, 
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
The alternative to buying $3 worth of God is to get on board with Jesus’ kingdom movement. Allow him to change us from the inside out, fully realizing that he may move us and lead us to do some uncomfortable things—like attending a party with tax collectors and “sinners”. Jesus may call us to give up our jobs to follow him, leaving it all behind. But what we will gain will be worth so much more than what we will lose. Yes, we may lose our comfortable lives, but we will be on an adventure, one that will never end.

Lloyd Ogilvie once wrote, 
The people around us can always read our hearts by our faces. The inner things we live with will always show up on our faces. The soul is dyed with the color of our commitment. Our task is not to argue, philosophize, speculate, cajole, but to live a life that demands an explanation. Is there anything about us that would force people to say, ‘Now that’s living! That’s the way I wish I could live!’ A joy-filled life will always demand an explanation—but too often we want Life without having to change our life-style.
Is there something about our life that demands an explanation? There will be, if Jesus is living in us.

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