New Wine in Old Wineskins

“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:18-22 ESV).

Jesus had just put together His ragtag band of disciples, none of whom had a seriously-religious lifestyle. He said, “Follow me,” and they did. John’s disciples had been with him for a bit longer, it would seem, and they would have adapted to the difficult and religious lifestyle which he modeled for them. The Pharisees? They had religion down to a “T”!

To anyone on the outside looking in, the disparity between the Pharisees and John’s disciples and Jesus’ disciples would be obvious. But it would seem that cleaning up His disciples outward behaviors wasn’t nearly as high a priority as cleaning them up on the inside.

It’s so easy for us to get that turned around as we work on making disciples. We want them to change dramatically in their outward behaviors, demonstrate through their immediate, strict adherence to religious convention that they have been changed. But Jesus didn’t seem at all concerned about that. He understood that true change comes, not from rigid, legalistic discipline, but from the inside, a change of heart!

As I write this blog, following a call to help disciples grow in their faith, I occasionally lose sight of that fact. I don’t discriminate, however, looking at my own life, judging my own actions, by the same standard I preach. It’s not that outward change is not important, we are expected to bear fruit, but outward change takes time. You don’t get apples as soon as you plant the seed!

When Jesus spoke about the unshrunk cloth and the new wine, He was trying to get this point across. If we impose a heavy, legalistic burden on those who come to faith, they will quickly become overwhelmed, discouraged, and perhaps even abandon the life of faith that they had just discovered. The patch will pull away. The wineskin will burst.

We need only look to our own lives, and the struggles and frustrations we experience in our battle with sin, to realize the truth of which He speaks.

I think about the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15). Jesus said some “seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain” (Mark 4:7 ESV). I never really thought about it this way before, but I believe that not all thorns come from the “cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19 ESV). I believe that sometimes the thorns that grow up and choke the Word come from well-meaning, but misguided, Christians who see it as their duty to “clean the fish that the Lord has caught.” Some thorns grow up when we try to assume the work of the Holy Spirit, Who brings conviction and gives the power to overcome sin.

I intend to focus a bit more, in the coming year, on providing tools for you and I to grow, and a little less on pointing out who we should be. We pretty much know that already, right?

Blessings on your weekend!



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