The Trouble with Old Wineskins

by Joe McKeever

When the Lord Jesus began His ministry, it was soon obvious to all that He was doing a new thing. In Matthew Chapter 9 we see Him forgiving sins, healing the sick, raising the dead, and associating with sinners. The people said, "Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel" (9:33). It was new.

Immediately the establishment attacked. "He's working by Satan's power," some said. Others went to Jesus and asked why He didn't make His disciples keep their rules. His answer deserves the thoughtful analysis of every Christian:

"Men do not put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins and both are preserved."

New wine, you may or may not know, is still fermenting. It bubbles and heaves, emitting gases, expanding. Old wineskins are dry and rigid and brittle. The pressure of new wine fermenting would burst those skins. So new wine goes into soft new skins, flexible and pliable. This is Jesus' explanation for not piggybacking His gospel onto the religious structure He saw all around Him. It would have been a disaster.

And for this same reason, many Christians and some churches are no longer of any use to the Lord—not for moral or doctrinal failure, not for internal disputes—but because they have grown dry and rigid, inflexible and unresponsive. Their Christian life is all about conserving the status quo and resisting change. Since the Holy Spirit goes only where He is made welcome and uses only those who obey Him, He bypasses these "old wineskins."

Three points need to be made here.

1. God is Always Doing New Things. In the Old Testament God said, "Behold I will do a new thing" (Isa. 43:19). At the end of the New Testament, He said, "Behold, I am making all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Between those two promises, we see God making a new covenant with a new people to whom He gives new commandments and new doctrines, a new ministry of the new and living way, resulting in a new person who will live in a new heaven and a new earth, receiving new names and singing a new song!

2. God Requires a Certain Kind of People to do His New Work. Jesus calls these people "fresh wineskins." The gospel message is the unchanging story of the ages—of God's love, Jesus' death, and sin's atonement. But the methods change. God's people are to be flexible in their methodology. Our watchword is "Lord, what would you have me do?" (Acts 22:10).

The problem with wineskins is that they age and become dry and brittle, resistant and unyielding, stiff and set in their ways. Like old Uncle Jeb who said, "I've seen a lot of changes in my 83 years. And I've been ‘agin' every one of them!" Old wineskins prefer old wine. It doesn't make waves, or stir things up. Old skins like everything tame and predictable, comfortable and unchallenging.

There's a lot of this in me. As a twenty-year old I sang in the church choir, and loved it. But what I hated and emotionally resisted was every new song the minister of music introduced. Eventually, I would enjoy singing it, but then he'd bring out another new one and I mentally balked at it too. Now, at the age of fifty-eight, I still see ways in which my old mind resists change and likes its rut. So I have to fight against it. Because a rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out.

I urge you also—whatever your age!—to resist this creeping negativism that wants everything the same and resists God's new things. That marvelous old hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" was written in 1913. It was new then. But church people welcomed it and sang it, until it became a great old standard. What if they had said, "We don't like these new songs!" We'd still be singing the Psalms. In Latin. Friend, in heaven we shall be singing "a new song" (Rev. 5:9; 14:3). Get used to it.

3. Fortunately, God Makes us Just That Kind of People. The promise from Jesus is He would make us fully alive (John 10:10). Psalm 92:12-15 beautifully describes God's fully-alive children: The righteous flourish like a:

Palm tree, which grows from the inside (See 2 Cor. 4:16). We do too.

Cedar of Lebanon, tall and strong—still fruitful in old age. Growing and doing.

Full of sap and green. "Full of vinegar," we used to say. Alive and sassy. See 85 year-old Caleb in Joshua 14.

This is what God does automatically in the lives of people who live in obedience to Him. He is not interested in us being religious. Religious people give God headaches. Religious people defend their church, glorify their organization, deify their denomination, and fight over turf. God doesn't need any more of that. Religious people crucified Jesus. When Jesus chose disciples (see Matt. 10), one characteristic distinguished the twelve: they were all outsiders. God wanted men with a total commitment to Jesus Christ, and a willingness to obey Him at all costs. That meant being different, not defending the status quo, making waves, taking risks, being flexible in methods and sold-out to God. Just like Jesus. For He was all of the above.

In the 17th century B.C. Hosea called on God's people to "break up the fallow ground." Two hundred years later Jeremiah preached the same sermon (Hos. 10:12; Jer. 4:3). A hard crust had formed over the soil, making it impossible for seeds to penetrate. So farmers had to sink deep "turning plows" into the soil, to break and soften it up, before it could grow a crop.

God is calling on us to do the same. The remedy is for each of us to:

• Recognize the tendency to grow cold and resistant to God, and the resulting danger.

• Renounce our resistance to God for what it is: the sin of unbelief.

• Recommit ourselves to God. "You alone, O Lord."

• Renew our relationship daily in order to stay usable to the Lord.

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