God’s Wineskin

The New Testament According to the Mind of Christ

How shall sin-inebriated idolaters become God-intoxicated worshipers? Jesus has given us the answer. It is by drinking the new wine contained in God’s Wineskin. It is by prayerfully entering into the New Covenant with God our Father, through faith in Jesus Christ, his divine Son.

 

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast at all?” So Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn while the bridegroom is still with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be made worse. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins, for if they do, the wineskins burst, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. Instead, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” —Matthew 9:14-17

The New Testament—a single long book comprised of 27 short books, written over a span of some 40 years by eight or nine chosen followers of Jesus Christ, telling us who he was, what he did, what he taught, how he died and rose and ascended into heaven, and what all of this means for Israel and the nations—may aptly be called God’s Wineskin. The New Testament text cited above helps us to understand why.

When the disciples of John the Baptizer came to Jesus, they brought both a question and (it would appear) a complaint. “Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast at all?” Jesus’ answer—cordial but firm—is twofold.

The King Has Come!

First, in light of his current presence in the world, it isn’t proper that they should fast. He is the Bridegroom—the long-awaited Savior, King, and spiritual Husband of Israel. How can the friends of the Bridegroom fast when he is right there with them? This is not a time for mourning, but for celebration!

Note, however, that Jesus himself casts a shadow over the celebration: “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast.” With the benefit of hindsight, we know what he means. Through treachery, injustice, and a shocking death by crucifixion, he and his friends will soon be separated, seemingly forever. And that indeed will be a proper time for fasting. But on the subject of joy and celebration, Jesus is not yet finished. Far from it!

A New Covenant is Coming!

For now he tells them (and us) something further, and something staggering to the Jewish mind. There is another reason his disciples cannot fast: God is now doing something new, something that calls for uninterrupted celebration, indeed, eternal celebration. He is fashioning a new patch of cloth. He is stitching a new wineskin. In other words, he is now revealing a new and definitive body of spiritual truth. What’s more, by means of this new body of truth he is also unveiling a new and definitive covenant (or spiritual agreement) between himself and everyone on earth who is willing to enter into it.

In the days ahead Jesus will have much more to say about this New Covenant. For the moment, however, he is focused on one of its outstanding characteristics: its fundamental incompatibility with the Old Covenant. And so he says, “No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be made worse. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins, for if they do, the wineskins burst, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. Instead, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Why did Jesus press this point? Why was he so keen on exalting the new wineskin above the old, and on separating the two once and for all?

The Old, the New, the Eternal

The rest of the New Testament supplies the answer. The Old Covenant was instituted through mere men, Abraham and Moses; the New Covenant will be instituted through the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant was an agreement solely between God and Israel; the New Covenant will be an agreement between God and all who trust in Christ the whole world over. The Old Covenant pictured, promised, and prepared for the things of Christ; the New Covenant gives us the things of Christ themselves, and Christ himself. Under the Old Covenant, life was characterized by much spiritual failure, sorrow, and penitential fasting; under the New Covenant, life will be characterized by much spiritual victory, joy, and celebratory feasting.

All of this and more was in Jesus’ mind as he spoke to John’s disciples. For he knew that from the very beginning God had but a single plan for the spiritual life and joy of people everywhere. Now that he (Jesus) is here, the plan is beginning to be unveiled. Later—after his death, resurrection, and return to heaven—the Holy Spirit will fully unveil it to his apostles. Moreover, in the apostles’ writings that same Spirit will definitively lay out the plan and treasure it up in a book called the New Testament; likewise, he will lay out the new way of life that is proper to the plan. Thus, through a great chain of divine revelation, the spiritual truth, power, and joy of God’s New Covenant people will be preserved forever.

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