Those who do not read the Gospels regularly may be puzzled by many of the things Jesus said. He often spoke in parables, simple stories with deep spiritual meanings, a lesson for the ordinary folk “who heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37), but which the haughty religious leaders had no time for. Their religion was centred on observing the rituals they had developed out of the Laws of Moses, often going beyond the commands the Law contained. They failed to see the spirit of the Law – the need to come humbly before God (see Malachi 2:1-8; 3:16-18).
We read today the words of Jesus that “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16,17).
This was a lesson for the disciples of John the Baptist as well as the scribes and Pharisees (verses 3,14); the latter were critical that he ate with “tax collectors and sinners” (verse 10). They were critical that the disciples of Jesus did not practice fasting like they did, indeed, as we read in Matthew 6:16,17 some, and he called these hypocrites, even disfigured their faces to exaggerate their fasting; they added to the Law to increase the times they could boast of their apparent spirituality.
So what is the lesson of the “fresh wineskins”? It would be tragic if his teaching was only seen as an extension of the ritual observances their human thinking had created; distorting the Laws God gave through Moses. True religion must flow out from a genuine spiritual “heart”. Much of the New Testament illustrates the endeavour of Christ and the Apostles to make this happen. Yet in the centuries that followed the purity of the “new wine” has often been diluted and polluted. We must recapture the purity of the “new wine” if we are to be blessed in participating at the return of Jesus in “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).