NEW WINE

This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. … We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus. [Acts 10:36, 15:11 (NLT)]

vineyard-In spite of our shared beginning, Christianity is not Judaism-Version 2. Jesus is the all-important distinction between the two faiths. Through parables, our Lord made it clear that His message was an entirely new version of man’s relationship with God. In one parable, He pointed out that when a new piece of fabric is used to patch old clothing, the materials won’t match and, when washed, the new cloth will shrink and pull away from the old. Moreover, cutting a patch from new clothing will ruin it—two worthless pieces of fabric, one new and the other old, would be all that remained. The new way, Jesus’ way, could not be patched into the old religious practices of Judaism.

Jesus then compared His new way with winemaking. In the 1st century, wine was fermented in wineskins made of goat or sheep skin. Like new material sewn on old fabric, new wine in old skins would also be a failure. No longer pliable, the old wineskins would be unyielding as the new wine bubbled and expanded during fermentation. Eventually, the skins would burst and both wineskin and wine would be spoiled. Jesus knew He couldn’t put new ideas into inflexible closed minds. Christianity, while it fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament, is not an extension of Judaism. As with old and new fabrics or old wineskins and new wine, they can’t be combined without spoiling both.

Thinking of new wine, today is Beaujolais Nouveau Day in France. Observed with music, fireworks and festivals, it celebrates the release of the first wine of the season. Bottled and sold just six weeks after harvest, Beaujolais nouveau is intended for immediate drinking. I thought of this fruity red when Jesus concluded His two parables with these words in Luke 5:39: “But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.”

In the case of Beaujolais Nouveau, those people would probably be right. Although celebrated in restaurants and markets throughout the world, Beaujolais Nouveau rarely lives up to its promise. Hastily produced, additives are often added to ready it for market, it’s never as rich as properly aged red wine, and it won’t improve with age. Wine critics have called it “near wine” and compared it to eating raw cookie dough—while nice, it’s not as good as the real thing. Jesus, however, wasn’t talking about new wine; He was talking about the difference between the old religious legalism of the Pharisees and the new way of God’s grace found in Him. The Pharisees wanted to work their way into heaven and Jesus wanted to give us all a ticket to salvation. Grace through faith was a radical idea and, with his words, Jesus cautioned that it is far easier to fall back into the old familiar ways than to take on anything new. For many, it was easier to remain in a life governed by laws and regulations than to step out in faith and live according the Spirit.

Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, the rich life found in Christ isn’t the result of shortcuts, has no additives, lives up to its promise, and only gets richer and better with time. Like Beaujolais Nouveau, however, the message of hope and salvation Jesus brought into the world is worthy of celebration.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life. [Romans 1:16-17 (NLT)]

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