Our Covenant-making God: God’s willingness to work with us – but are our eyes open to this?

“Jesus told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'"
                                                                  Luke 5:36-39
Doris was a seventy-year-old Christian potter who joined our church in London when we had over a dozen homeless men living on the premises. She had prayed for many years that she could use her pottery to help others and here was her opportunity. Over the following year she helped many in the church to make all manner of pots – myself included. We then found two large kilns and had them transported to the church on a low-loader, as we got ready to develop a cottage industry for those who found it hard to find work due to their past lifestyle. And then the unexpected happened and Doris (rather inconveniently in my eyes!), died and with her demise, all our plans in this area. Yet on reflection a few years later I could see how God had wanted to bless an old lady with her hopes and dreams in that incredible year. God has a great love for us all and yet this does not mean His work with and through us is predictable. Yet what remains true, no matter what is going on, is His heart for us all, so let’s make sure we don’t let our plans or agendas, or take on life, blind us from seeing the wonder of life in Him.

In Luke chapter five we read about the call of the disciples, the healing of a leper and the healing and forgiveness of a paralytic lowered through a roof by his friends. Yet we also read of perplexed religious people who could not understand why Jesus ate with sinners, or why Jesus had, in their eyes, such an unusual group of disciples. The disciples would have had basic Torah instruction, yet only the most intelligent and promising of men would ever be called to go on with religious education and become disciples to the many rabbis and teachers of the day. Yet here was Jesus calling fishermen and tax collectors – and they were eating and drinking with sinners! (Lk 5:30) Because of this and their mindset the Pharisees and teachers of the law challenged the disciples, yet it was Jesus who answered them, pointing out that He has come to call sinners to repentance and not those who were righteous in their own eyes.

Jesus is then challenged about the actions of His disciples, compared with John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees and it then that Jesus tells them the parable. There are those who think that in telling the parable Jesus is contrasting the Old Testament and the Law with the New Testament and grace, yet He is not doing this at all. What Jesus comes against is what the teaching of God had become in the hands of religious men like some of those who were challenging Him and the disciples. So, what is the parable talking about?

The context to the parable is the question asked by the Pharisees: “Why do you have people like this as your disciples?”  The new patch that Jesus speaks of is the disciples, and Jesus effectively says, “You can’t take these men with the way they are being taught and fit them into your system of teaching: it just does not work.”  This was because some (not all) of the Pharisees and teachers of the law had taken the heart out of God’s teaching and ended up with little more than a set of rules. Yet God’s heart is in all that He does, and all things are important to Him.

For example, Jesus sees the two small coins (Lk 21:2) and cup of water given in His name (Mk 9:41), whilst religion in the hands of man could not rejoice in the healing of a paralytic on the Sabbath (John 7:23f), and allowed the Temple to be used for financial gain (Mt 21:12f)!. Jesus is the One who threw moneylenders out f the Temple, also reminding everyone that the Temple was a house of prayer. We then read that, “The blind and the lame came to him at the temple and he healed them (Matt 21:14). In all that Jesus did the disciples were seeing the heart of God in action – and this did not fit in with what religion had become in the hands of man. Going back to Jesus’ parable we then finding Him saying that you can’t take new wine and put it into old wineskins.

In Israel wine is a symbol of blessing and joy because it represented the fullness of harvest that had been provided by God. When you take the teaching of God and add your own spin on what is permissible or not, you end up in trouble. The Kingdom of God – God’s rule and reign will not fit into the traditions of man. Neither can the Kingdom of God be achieved or earned; it can only be received with an open and thankful heart – no through a mechanical list of do’s and don’ts.  

Finally, Jesus says that after drinking the old wine no one wants the new and, in these words, we have a role reversal because it was the Pharisees who thought they had the old teaching and were, in a sense the old wine, yet this was not true. What they had was not old because, as already said they put their own spin on God’s word, so to speak with their list of rules and regulations. In this respect, their old wine was new. Parodically, it was then so-called ‘new’ of the disciples which was really the old wine because it spoke of the heart of God and the way of God which had been present from the beginning. In this respect it was not new at all, but very old and only looked new because it did not fit into their traditions which certainly had not been present since the beginning of time. 

So, in looking at the Pharisees and teachers of the law on one side and the disciples on the other we have two completely different groups.  On the one side there were those caught up in their old ways and saw the disciples as bringing something new which had to be rejected. Yet in truth it was the disciples who experienced and lived out the teaching of God which had been present from the beginning. When people tasted the fruit of Jesus ministry (old wine), directly and in and through His disciples they did not want to back to the ‘new’ of the Pharisees (new wine). It is in this context that Jesus says, “…no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'"

We live in an age where the church is plagued by differing views on how church should be done, with many people trying to fit others into their mould, their mindset, and calling it God’s way and the way things have always been done.  Yet this is not necessarily true. Let’s also remember that delights in taking ordinary everyday people like you and I and working with them in extraordinary and powerful ways.

All teaching in the word of God is His teaching, and the fruit of this teaching is to be seen in our transformed nature and character;  in the way we live in His world and in how we treat others and move in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. People to not need to ‘taste’ our way of doing things as if it were going to be our spin on things that is better that than of others.

In order to walk in the power and presence of the Spirit is to recognise that our inadequacies and weaknesses are no problem to God. We are called to yield our lives to Him, which may mean feeling uncomfortable at times and walk in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit so that people can taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Let us never make the mistake of thinking that God is not interested in working with us or  make the mistake of thinking that everything has to be perfect before He does, because in doing so we forget that our heavenly father looks at the heart and not our achievements. Being with Jesus means that ordinary, Spirit-empowered people like you and I can help change this world as we engage with the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.”                                                                                           Acts 4:13-15
Written and produced by Jem. Every blessing.

Jem Trehern, 07/01/2020