New wine in old wineskins
“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17).
Every now and again in life there is a pivotal moment when a physical, mental or spiritual shift occurs—perhaps even, an awakening. For me, my mid-20s have been that moment. It started like a light-bulb moment when I turned 25, and each year since has brought about more growth and some significant life learnings. When I turned 25, I felt like I had entered womanhood. Seriously! Young enough to be counted as youthful, old enough to be considered an adult. Young enough to enjoy the freedom of my mid-20s, old enough to have accumulated some wisdom. I looked at myself and my life differently. I looked at faith differently. Now, this “coming into adulthood” has not always been comfortable–it requires an intentional change of mindset and habits, and the breaking of old thought patterns. But these changes have been necessary to accommodate my new, grown (and continually growing) mindset. I play by different rules now.
Put simply, the old me would not be able to handle what has come and what will come.
Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus often challenged the status quo and in return was challenged for His approach to love, law, faith, grace and spirituality. In one instance, Jesus was enjoying a banquet thrown by Levi (aka Matthew) after his acceptance of the call to follow Jesus when He was questioned about fasting. The Pharisees and disciples of John noticed that the disciples of Jesus would go on eating and drinking while the disciples of the Pharisees and John would fast and pray. After making commentary about not fasting while in the presence of the bridegroom, Jesus responds with a parable:
“No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skin, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins” (Luke 5: 37,38).
In those days, wineskins were an important part of the wine fermentation process. New wine would be poured into a new wineskin (usually made from the hide of a goat), and as the wine fermented and produced gases the wineskin would expand with the pressure and stretch to accommodate the new wine. Once the wineskin had been stretched, it would lose its elasticity, becoming brittle, and it could not be used again. So, pouring new wine into an old wineskin would effectively cause the wineskin to burst, destroying the wineskin and wasting the new wine.
For me, the new wine represents Jesus, the new covenant and the new kingdom that He was creating. The wineskins represent humanity, and more specifically the limitations of religion and the old ways in which the Pharisees and teachers of the law operated. The life, ministry and death of Jesus was a pivotal shift in human history. Jesus changed the rules, He changed the game. Grace, mercy and faith would no longer operate under the same constraints as the old world—Jesus changed everything. And Jesus—with greater depth than the initial challenge had—was alluding to this new reality. It was no longer a kingdom of religion but the kingdom of heaven, with Jesus at the centre.
A pivotal shift; the old has passed away and the new has come. As I reflected on this parable, it begged the question. In my life and faith journey am I a new wineskin, ready to receive the new wine and be stretched? Or am I an old wineskin, stretched out and brittle?
Growing up in the Church, I’ve noticed that we as a community have the tendency to be brittle and set in our ways. We also have the tendency to criticise the “Church” as a body for a lack of flexibility, innovation or willingness to do more than the usual. We even may emphasise that the Church, the pastors and the conferences bear the responsibility to change. And while on a corporate level that may be true, we should not forget that in fact we are the church. I am a part of the church. Change and renewal starts with me. It starts with us.
The parable of the new wineskins is more than just about wine and wineskins. It’s about Jesus, the kingdom of heaven and me. Here are two characteristics I’ve learnt about the kingdom of heaven from this story.
Firstly, the kingdom of heaven is more concerned with my heart than my head. I may know what the Bible says and know about Jesus but how is the condition of my heart? Jesus knew the teachings of the Scriptures and He was more excited to share with His disciples in the celebration of a child of God accepting the call to follow Him (in this case Matthew).
And yet, in the same space, the Pharisees were so preoccupied with the deviation of Jesus’ disciples from religious traditions, they were missing out on a blessing they were witnessing.
I, too, am prone to focus on church rituals, traditions and habits; the comfort of routine and head knowledge. But being too comfortable breeds complacency. Before I know it, I am moving through the motions, unphased by the love of God and the calling of Jesus over my life. And truthfully, in these times, my heart and spirit is like an old wineskin, not ready to receive what God has in store and certainly not ready to shift from the kingdom of religion to the kingdom of heaven. As a church (the collective body of believers), we too can be like the Pharisees, prioritising head knowledge and placing our emphasis on religious traditions. As a result, we may miss out on what God has in store for us because we haven’t fully surrendered ourselves and are oblivious to His calling. The shift from head knowledge to heart surrender tells us that we understand the magnitude of what Jesus has done for us. It reframes our perspective on life, faith and church and repositions us to be more aligned with Christ, His kingdom and the great commission. That shift, being sold out fully to Christ and allowing ourselves to be led wholeheartedly by the Spirit, changes everything.
Secondly, the kingdom of heaven wants to make us new. Since the fall of mankind, God has been continually calling us back to Him. His incredible love for us is shown so vividly through every Bible story and His promises are abundant. The thing is, He doesn’t just want to restore us but make us new. God tells us to forget the former things and not dwell on the past, for He is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:18,19), and goes on to say that if we are in Christ, a new creation has come: the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). He is working in our lives; He is making us a new creation.
I want to be made new, like a new wineskin. I want to be stretched for His kingdom, to have my faith deepened and grown, and to experience a pivotal shift where my faith moves from head to heart. I want to be filled with the love of God, the heart of Jesus and the zeal of the Spirit. I no longer want to be filled with the former things of my life. I want to be so aligned with Jesus that I am able to be led by the Spirit and to move where He sends.
The journey post-25 has been challenging and exhilarating. There has been a lot of learning and unlearning, and at times it has been uncomfortable. But the growth, personally and spiritually, has been worth it. Knowing and believing I am deeply loved by the Most-High makes all the difference. Knowing and believing He has made me worthy and given me a purpose for His kingdom, makes all the difference. Knowing who I believe in and what I believe in makes all the difference. And honestly, serving from a place of love and gratitude rather than a place of obligation and routine has been genuinely refreshing. There is something about post-25 life that has a different kind of intentionality, and that shift has made all the difference.
So, I ask the question again. Am I, are we, like new wineskins, ready to receive the new wine and be stretched? Or am I, are we, like old wineskins, stretched out and brittle? Am I prepared to be a part of the shift from head to heart, from religion to Jesus? The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of redemption, restoration and old being made new in Jesus’ name. This is the kingdom of heaven that I believe in. And this is the kingdom of heaven that I want to be a part of.
Valerie Donat is an environmental scientist and attends Parramatta Church (NSW).