The Problem of Wineskins/Pentecost 2005
Pentecost is not only an important event in the history of the Church, but is also one of the key events in the history of the world. Pentecost celebrates something that has happened to the world, and the Scriptures teach that nothing can be done to reverse this.
“Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved” (Matt. 9:14-17; cf. Mk. 2:19-22). “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better” (Luke 5:39).
“And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (John 2:6-11).
“And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:12).
Jesus gives the parable of the wineskins in response to a question about why the disciples of John were fasting, but His disciples were eating and drinking. His answer is, in effect, that the new wine of the Christian faith must have the new wineskin of the Christian church. The old wineskin of the old covenant could not handle what was about to happen; there must be changes across the board. Moreover, in the passage from Luke, Jesus anticipates resistance to the change—“the old is better.” On this basis, we claim that the Church is not merely an “improved” Israel. The Church is Israel fulfilled, but God did not do this by means of “patching.”
This total change was signalled in Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Jesus did not simply turn water into wine as an act of power. Rather, He took the water used for the rites of ceremonial Jewish cleansing, and He turned that water into a wine fit for use at a blow-out of a wedding reception. The kingdom of God is a feast, and the wine is plentiful. And this wine is the wine of grace that used to be the water of religion.
When the bridegroom departed, then the disciples of Jesus fasted. But the bridegroom then returned in the person of the Holy Spirit, poured out at Penecost. And when He was poured out, the disciples were immediately accused of being soused in new wine, and the old wineskins that contained them began to show their age.
A CHANGE IN THE WORLD:
It is crucial for us to realize that there will never need to be another Pentecost. The Christian faith will not deteriorate to the point where it must be set aside in favor of another faith. God has promised that He will preserve His Church. Consequently, those Christians who anticipate near complete and total apostasy of Christendom are still thinking in the wrong categories, in old covenant categories. God began doing a mysterious thing in the world at that first Pentecost, and He will not stop doing it until the entire earth is as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
NEVERTHELESS . . .
Jesus draws His illustration from everyday life (patching clothes, pouring new wine into old wineskins). And if you were to do either of these physical things in 2005 A.D. as opposed to 500 B.C. the same thing would still happen. And the same thing still happens to particular institutions, denominations, schools, seminaries, and movements. We have our confidences upside down. We despair of the faith at large, while retaining fundamental confidence in the entity with which we are associated. This is backwards—and if we learn that it is backwards, we may have some hope for our particular “wineskin.”
WHAT IS REVIVAL?
Just as Israel as a whole was fulfilled and replaced by the new Israel, the Church, so particular churches may be fulfilled and replaced. New Methodists pop up (outside Methodism), as do neo-Puritans, and so on. But this will never happen to the Church at large, the way it happened to Israel. To change the metaphor, the Gardener still prunes some branches from the tree of the covenant, but He never cuts the tree back to the extent He did in the first century. But particular branches are still vulnerable (Rom. 11:21), and must never be haughty. But this is not the only way. In the history of His Church, God has frequently brought a movement of renewal that is not a complete and total “end run.” Sometimes He pours out the new wine of a Holy Spirit revival, and He actually equips the denominational wineskin to receive it—and to not burst at the seams. That is revival—but not the only kind.
NOT AS THE SCRIBES:
Jesus taught with authority, we are told, and not like the scribes. One of the things He authoritatively taught was that theological “descendants” love to enshrine the memory of great men of the faith that they would not tolerate alive in their midst for ten running minutes. And incidentally, the only scribes who are the problem are the scribes who take offense at observations like this. As we peer inside the wineskin of the Reformed faith, what do we see in there? Hundreds and thousands of little . . . scribes. “Where is the wine?” we ask. “A puzzled look comes over their little scribe faces. “We think we drank it,” someone says. “Three hundred years ago,” someone else adds. “But we have to check the minutes to make sure.”