After Jesus commissioned Levi, a.k.a. Matthew, the tax collector threw a lavish party and invited his friends and coworkers. Jesus, of course, was the guest of honor (Matthew 9:9-10, CSB). Seeing this, the Pharisees became indignant. Why, they wondered, was Jesus cavorting with “tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11, CSB).
Disciples of John the Baptist, seeing the contrast between the joyful Jesus and the hyper-religious Pharisees, asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14, CSB).
In answer to their sincere inquiry, Jesus told a parable. “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. No, they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17, CSB).
How does that help? First, a comment about wineskins. I buy my grape juice in a plastic jug and store it in the refrigerator. In first-century Palestine, folks used containers made of animal skin to store liquids. The skin of a recently butchered animal, usually a lamb or goat, was carefully fashioned into a vessel. When grape juice was stored in a skin, the fresh juice would ferment and expand, stretching the pliable skins. Unlike my plastic jug, the skins, once stretched to capacity, were not reusable, but became brittle and useless.
Jesus came with a new message, a new Gospel. He didn’t come to knock the rust off of something that was old and obsolete. He didn’t come to put new wine in old skins. Earlier, Jesus clearly said, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17–18, CSB). God’s authority and rule are absolute. He’s not wishy-washy. God doesn’t change with the tide of cultural influence. Those that say that the Bible is obsolete are wrong. “Thou shalt not murder... Thou shalt not commit adultery... Thou shalt not steal... Thou shalt not bear false witness... Thou shalt not covet...” (Exodus 20:13-17). The moral laws remain in effect. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law.
When Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He proclaimed the fulfillment of the sacrificial law. No longer is it required that we “offer a year-old male lamb without blemish as a burnt offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:12, CSB). He didn’t set aside the sacrificial law, He fulfilled it! He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, CSB). Again, Jesus didn’t come to put new wine into an old wineskin.
The old and useless wineskins were the pharisaical, man-made, hyper-religious dos and don’ts preached by the religious hard-liners. Why didn’t Jesus act like the Pharisees? Why, the onlookers asked, was Jesus having dinner with the dregs of society, the tax collectors and sinners?
Why? Because Jesus didn’t come to repair or replace the Pharisees and their legalism and religiosity, He came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He came with something wonderfully new! Jesus preached a Gospel of grace, of joy and freedom...