Most people who discuss the new wine and wineskins mentioned in Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22, Luke 5: 36-39) will talk about the differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, between a religion of obligation and works, and a relationship of faith, the heart, and grace.
I agree. However, I think there is more to it than that.
There is a powerful point Jesus wanted us to know here that was picked up by the early church but is now completely overlooked by the modern Western church. We are missing one of this teaching’s central points.
Jesus’ three-part teaching/answer about cloth and wineskins was in response to a query by John’s disciples about the lack of fasting among Jesus’ disciples. Fasting is a religious practice and here it was symbolic of the entire Jewish religious edifice constructed over and around the Old Covenant that Jesus fought so stridently against. It represented Jewish religion with its special religious buildings, special religious days, special religious festivals, special religious leaders, special religious dress codes, special religious rules, special religious hierarchy, and special religious habits such as fasting. You get the idea.
These are the hallmarks of all religions across all cultures. Jesus was telling his listeners that this worldly, cultural system of external religious practice, as epitomized by the Pharisaic religious practices, was now obsolete. The old wineskins and the old cloth were not to be part of the future of the Kingdom of God and its new wine. It wasn’t just about the Old Covenant being the old wine replaced with the New Covenant and the new wine, but the scaly, crusty, barnacle-covered religious burden that went with it; the old wineskins.
Then he made a very interesting comment. He said No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. There was to be a New Covenant of the heart, and grace, intimate relationship, faith, AND, there was also to be a completely new system of social and religious organization around this New Covenant relationship with God.
So, what was this new social religious system, this new wineskin?
The answer is in the Gospels, right under our nose. If you read Luke 3-10 very carefully several times you will see this new system unfolding beautifully. Jesus first consecrated his life (Luke 3-4), then launched into the harvest of souls around Capernaum and Bethsaida (Luke 4-5). He then trained up leaders from among his growing number of followers (Luke 6:12-13), sending them out on a practical to duplicate what he had been doing once trained (Luke 6-9). This was followed up with the training of 72 more leaders (Luke 10) who were told to look for even more leaders in every village in Galilee (Luke 10:1-12). This was saturation evangelism and discipleship with hundreds of trained leaders. This is how he ignited a social and spiritual revolution in Galilee! This was what he meant by the new wineskin. This is also why he was executed (John 11:47-53). The whole nation was turning!
This new wineskin was deliberately calculated to produce a massive harvest of powerful disciples who were nurtured via micro-spiritual communities inside homes, clans and villages. It was simple, viral, and easily duplicated. It rapidly produced mature practical spiritual leaders who were able to copy the ministry of Jesus. This new movement liberated people both spiritually and culturally (Luke 4:18-19). All this while these new believers enjoyed a new-found intimacy with God in a New Covenant relationship.
When Jesus was leaving earth, he told his followers to go to all the world and duplicate his new model of humble, low-key, viral family-based based and deeply spiritual community (Matthew 28:18-20). They did. They changed the world. This was the new wine and wineskin combo that proved to be such a potent force in the spread of the Gospel in those first two centuries, by which time it had reached Pakistan and India in South Asia, Afghanistan and Central Asia, all of the Middle East, North Africa and most of Europe.
But then it all slowed and eventually stopped.
Three hundred years after its launch, the growing global church reinstituted special religious buildings, special religious days, special religious festivals, special religious leaders, special religious dress codes, special religious rules, religious hierarchies ,and special religious habits…such as fasting. It now had cultural and worldly power but it fizzled out spiritually. Christendom was born.
For the next thousand years the new wine of an intimate, personal relationship with our creator was either suppressed or again stuck in the old wineskin of religion. There were some notable breakouts along the way such as the Waldensians, the Hussites and the Lutheran’s call back to the new wine of direct relationship with God through the grace of the cross. However, the parallel issue of the old, stale, brittle wineskin of established religion was never addressed properly. To this day Western Christianity is stale and stagnant because it is essentially new wine stuck in old wineskins. That’s why we are now shrinking and culturally irrelevant.
But radical change is coming.
In the last forty years we have seen a sustained global return to the new wineskin. The non-Western church, which is now 80% of all evangelical believers in the world, is quickly moving into the new wineskin paradigm of church. It is rapidly replacing our stale old Western religious wineskins with the new wineskins they read about in the Gospels. Some 80 million new believers are now part of this revolution that often goes by the name of Disciple Making Movements or Church Planting Movements. Numbers a tripling every decade. China, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa are at the forefront of this revolution that is going to have a profound impact on the entire human race be the end of this century. Mass movements are popping up in the most surprising places. My summary of this movement can be found in this link.
This is what Jesus meant when he said No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. It’s been 1,800 years in the making but it has finally arrived: New wine in new wineskins and the greatest flow of humans into the Kingdom of God the world will ever see!