A collaborative post by Josh Lawson, Travis Kolder, and David Bolton
for “The WORD in 3D”.
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“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ”
Luke 5:37-39 (NKJV)
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When I was a young teenager, my older brother decided to try his hand at making his own wine. To do so, he stored some homemade grape juice in a screw-capped bottle inside his desk drawer. A week or so later, he called me into his room rather urgently. When I went in, I saw a large purple stain on the carpet in front of his desk. He then opened the drawer and inside, embedded in the juice-soaked wood, were innumerable chards of glass from the bottle that had exploded within it. Such is the power of “new wine.”
In Scripture, “wine” is symbolic of two primary things, blood and the indwelling Spirit. Both of these point to the God-given life that is in man. Blood is the old creation shadow of the new creation reality: the Spirit Who fills our hearts and “quickens our mortal bodies.” Therefore, “wine” is ultimately symbolic of the indwelling Holy Spirit!
God’s highest thought for a “wineskin” to contain His “wine”, then, is man. God, in Christ, is bringing forth “one new man”, the corporate Christ, to be the Vessel of His Life. Those who comprise this “one new man” are “new creations” born of the “new covenant”. They have been given a “new spirit” and a “new heart”…a “heart of flesh”, which has the life of the Spirit coursing through it. As such, they are able to feel, respond, and adapt to the ever-changing dynamics of the life of God within them. Together in relationship, these “new creations” form the “one new man”, the corporate “new wineskin” that God has ordained to contain and dispense the fullness of His “new wine”.
In contrast to this, there are also “old wineskins” that contain “old wine.” The “old wine” is that which is of the “old creation”, enlivens the “old man”, and is comprised of the elements of the “old covenant” (i.e. religious laws, forms, rites, practices, etc.) The “old wineskins” are those forms and methods contrived by the “old man” to contain and dispense these lifeless elements. These “old wineskins” are, likewise, lifeless in nature and are, therefore, insensitive, unresponsive and unyielding to the Spirit. As such, they are also predictable, manageable and non-threatening to the “old man.”
The Spirit of God, like the fermenting juice in my brother’s desk, however, is alive and ever bursting the confinements of the “old man” and his “old wineskins”. When the “old man” encounters this threatening dynamic, he immediately determines, “The old is better.”
The great tragedy of Christianity is found right here: instead of the Church being a “new covenant”, “new creation”, “new man” expression of the “new wineskin”, filled with the “new wine” of the life-giving Spirit, she is all too often an “old covenant”, “old creation”, “old man” expression of an “old wineskin”, filled with the “old wine” of lifeless religion. Many within her say, “The old is better”, and those who do seek the “new wine”, tragically think they can contain it within these “old wineskins.”
Jesus Christ died, however, to put to death the “old wine/wineskin” form of religion. In resurrection, He has brought forth the “new wine/wineskin” expression of Himself. Only this living Body of Christ is divinely fashioned and fit to contain and dispense the life-giving Spirit of Christ!
Since Jesus said, “No man pours new wine into old wineskins…”, why do we expect that God will do so? No, our “old wine/wineskin religiosity” must die. Instead, we must be that living “New Wineskin” whom God will abundantly fill with His “New Wine”! Only then will both Wine and Wineskin be preserved!
Since the beginning of time, Jesus Christ has been a creator. He has never been content to make static copies or to settle into a rut. Scripture calls Him our forerunner (Hebrews 6:20), which means that He is opening up new ways in the Kingdom before us. Even at the consummation of the ages, He tells the church “behold, I make all things new,” (Revelation 21:5).
Men, however, tend to be settlers. We tend to value tradition without meaning and rote over life. We hold to what we know, what we’ve done, and what we’ve seen over anything new, no matter the benefit. As Jesus tells us in this parable “[a]nd no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'”
Into these two opposites…God ever new and ever creating, and man trying desperately to hold on to the old, Jesus walks into the scene. He tells the disciples that the old wine (first century legalism and all of its children) is best suited for old wineskins (the Jewish religious system). But new wine (the life of Jesus, both in Himself and eventually in His followers) must be put into new wineskins (life lived out in the Kingdom of God relationally). But Jesus hasn’t limited himself to walking into the scene in 1st Century Judaism. He also walks onto the scene of 21st Century life.
No matter what century you’re in, you will find old wineskins that are inflexible. Pouring the life of Jesus into a religious system will break it. It’s not meant to expand or change. It can’t handle internal pressure from the life of Christ. The life of Jesus will break out of it and damage it. But according to Jesus, you can put new wine into new wineskins. These new wineskins are flexible, not rigid. They are able to yield to the pressures of internal life happening because of the fermenting wine.
Wherever Jesus walks onto the scene, You will see Him drawing men to Himself. Sometimes this will bust the old wineskins. Wherever He is responded to in faith, you will see new wineskins emerge. There is much dialog about what new wineskins are, but they definitely look more like how Jesus and His apostolic band functioned together relationally. This relational connection allows for the new wine–the life of Christ in and between those who make it up–to grow and change and expand. Jesus, in His sovereignty, has forever joined the new wine of the life of Christ with the new wineskins of Kingdom relationships.
The other thing to remember is that those who have tasted old wine and enjoyed it don’t like the new wine. Again, there’s something in man that prefers the old to the new. But to those who haven’t tasted the “benefits” of legalism and unholy religion, to those who have been sickened by its taste, there is a hope in a wine unlike any other–the life of Jesus. Jesus once served new wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) when the old wine ran out. That new wine was better than anything else that had previously been served. Jesus is always doing something new, serving new wine that is far superior to the old. So I encourage you to taste this new wine of the life of Christ. But take it a step further–gather with like-minded brothers and sisters who will walk out a relationship where it will mature, expand, and grow rich beyond your wildest dreams.
As I contemplate this passage I am struck by the statement, “No one who drinks old wine immediately desires the new, for he says ‘The old is better.’ ” In fact, it causes a deep sighing in my spirit. This has proven regrettably true in my experience.
The wineskin is useless without the wine. We know that. Our spirits are dead without the life-giving touch of God’s Spirit just as our church structures are lifeless without the participation of living members of Christ. To make someone a “Christian” by giving them rules and regulations to follow is ludicrous; to try to make a “church” by adopting certain forms is equally vain. The wine is of primary importance.
Alas, however, for it’s so difficult to get people to drink the new wine! Try offering Jesus Christ as all-sufficient and observe how many people prefer to stick with their dusty old mentalities, paradigms, and lifestyles. “The old is better,” they say.
I admit this has been a conundrum for me as I seek to bring people into touch with Christ. Even those who do taste His life are prone to quickly forget the experience and return to old ways. They may catch a vision of Christ only to quickly pass it off as a fleeting apparition with no practical relevance to the status quo. Or they will taste His life in a mutual exchange of fellowship with another brother or sister but never stop to think that the way of real church life is further down that road rather than the way of their usual Sunday song and dance.
I have seen brothers and sisters over the years who were given a taste of the new wine in Christ. I’ve sensed their spirits stir and watched their eyes light up at the sight of unseen realities. I’ve listened to them question their traditional Christianity in response and begin to search for a better way forward.
That is the happy side of the story. The sad side is that most of those brothers and sisters never went forward in the way of their new light. The intoxication of the first taste wore off and they forgot how different it really was. They got busy with the cares of this life. Whatever the reason, they returned to drinking the old wine of traditional Christianity.
Relating this analogy of wine and wineskin to the life of the Spirit and the Church, it is my observation that only one thing can be done to preserve the experience of the new wine once it has been tasted, and that is to do what Jesus said: “Pour it into a new wineskin.” When a person tastes fullness of life in Christ, he or she must move forward in that experience–repenting of sin, renewing their mind, and divesting themselves of old paradigms and practices for the “new and living way.” Trying to blend a new lifestyle with worldly ways or attempting to “change the system” from within will eventually cause the old forms to burst and the wine to be spilled.
In other words, new “life” requires a new “way.” This is true of the sinner coming to Christ for the first time and the Christian awakening to the reality of God’s eternal purpose in Christ. Whatever our place in the journey, may God give us eyes to see and ears to hear.
Together we say: (a collaborated prayer)
Father, we love You, and desire to be those individual and corporate new wineskins You are seeking to contain the fullness of Your new wine in these last days.
We thank You that You are releasing the new wine of Jesus and the Kingdom of God in the Earth and ask that You would help us to say ‘the new wine is better.’
For we have tasted and seen that it is better indeed!
Please take time to visit and explore the contributing authors’ respective blogs for more Christ-honoring content by them:
Josh Lawson at In Search of the City
Travis Kolder at Pursuing Glory
David Bolton at Christ-Centered Christianity
For more information about this initiative, please see the “The WORD in 3D”.