Galileo was a Christian, Italian astronomer and physicist who challenged the traditional thinking of his day, and made some important discoveries. He is most famous for his invention of the telescope. In 1609, using his telescope and the Bible, he began to make spectacular discoveries about the heavenly bodies – the sun and the stars, our galaxy, and even about our own earth. Among his discoveries was the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe, nor was it even the center of our solar system. All the universe did not revolve around the earth, as was popularly taught in those days.
He even showed his discoveries to Pope Paul V, but the church turned on him and attacked him. They told him that the earth was the center of God’s creation, and if anything else was the center, it would be like the earth was worshipping it, which would be idol worship. The church even threw Scripture at him. Their favorite was Acts 1:13, and especially so because of the word play on Galileo. Acts 1:13 says this, “Why are you men of Galilee standing here and looking up into the sky?” How’s that for a verse ripped out of context?
Nevertheless, in 1632, Galileo was called before the leaders of the Inquisition to answer charges that his writings contradicted church teachings and tradition. He was 70 years old at the time, and was at the very least threatened with torture, if not actually tortured. The outcome was that Galileo was forced to recant his beliefs and state that his observations about the earth moving around the sun were errors and heresies. However, even after he recanted, he was placed under house arrest and treated badly by church officials until he became blind and feeble. He died on a cold, winter’s day in 1642 with his son and two pupils present. Of course, as we all know, Galileo was right, and the church was wrong – terribly wrong – because it was resistant to change. It resisted anything new.
Jesus ran into a very similar problem when He began His ministry almost 2000 years ago. At the very outset of what he was trying to do, he received criticism for trying to do things differently, for trying to change things. Time after time, the Jewish leaders and religious people of that day questioned Jesus, and even condemned Him, for trying to do something new. We see one of these incidents in Luke 5:33-39 and Jesus responds to their questioning with a parable. Let me explain to you some of the cultural difficulties that Jesus was trying to overcome.
Today in the Middle East, just like in the time of Christ, there are communities which have lived in remarkable isolation from the rest of the world. Frequently, in these communities, the highest ideal, the highest value, the greatest goal, is changelessness. The highest compliment for a gentleman in one of these communities is to call him a Hafiz al-taqalid, a preserver of the customs. This is what Jesus was up against when he came on the scene, and this is what he addresses in Luke 5:33-39.
The incident is introduced in Luke 5:33 when some religious people ask him a question (Luke 5:33).
A Question (Luke 5:33)
Luke 5:33. Then they said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”
They are saying, “Why do you do things differently, Jesus? Why are you rocking the boat? Why are you threatening the status quo? Why are you going against tradition and custom? Why don’t you and your disciples fast like everybody else?”
Earlier in Luke 5, the Pharisees have just gotten a little upset at Jesus for spending time with tax collectors and sinners. He was going to parties and taking his disciples with him. And then, worst of all, he was calling it ministry! And the Pharisees didn’t like it. They didn’t think this was the way a “Godly man” should act. A Godly man never laughs. Never cracks a joke.
But Jesus did all these things. However, the only item they confront Him on here is his lack of fasting. You see, at that time, it was traditionally mandatory for all good Jews to fast. If you didn’t fast, others kind of looked down on you and said, “Oh, look at him. He’s not very holy.” The Pharisees had fasting down to a science. They would fast every Monday and Thursday, and would whiten their faces with ash so everyone could see that they were fasting. Of course, the fasting itself was somewhat hypocritical because the fast only lasted from sunrise to sunset, and they could eat as much as they wanted before and after the fast.
Their prayer was also regimented. They would pray promptly at noon, three and six, no matter where they were or what they were doing. Some of them, when they knew the time of prayer was approaching, would hurry up to get to a place like a street corner or a marketplace so that everyone would observe them praying. So their prayers also were hypocritical.
But prior to Luke 5:33, we see Jesus and his disciples eating and drinking and laughing and having a good time. This was different from the way the Pharisees did things. This was different from the way the disciples of John the Baptist did things. In fact, the parallel account in Matthew 9 tells us that it is the disciple of John the Baptist who ask Jesus this question. Both the Pharisees and the disciples of John were a little confused at the way Christ did things. So they come to Him in Luke 5:33 and pull him off to this side, and say “Now Jesus, you’re So kind of new to this whole ministry thing, and you’re kind of young too, so we want to help you out. We want to give you a few tips we’ve learned over the years. We’ve been doing ministry for a long time, and we know how to do it, and our disciples get well trained. We all agree that you are doing too much eating and drinking and partying and hanging out with too many sinners. If you want your ministry to be effective, you need to do more fasting and praying. That would be the place to start.”
And you know what Jesus tells them? He says, “Hey, you’ve got it all wrong. You think that you’re not following God unless you’re miserable.
I’m here to change all that. I’m here to show you that serving God can be a party. And I am the life of the party (Luke 5:34-35).
Jesus is the Life of the Party (Luke 5:34-35)
Luke 5:34-35. And He said to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.”
This is Christ’s answer. The bridegroom is always a symbol for Jesus Christ, and so the friends of the bridegroom refer to Christ’s disciples. And basically, Jesus says, “The friends of the bridegroom do not fast when He is with them, they celebrate! They don’t fast; they feast!” One of the main reasons people fast – at least the Biblical reason – is to pray for things. And in Old Testament times, most people fasted to pray that the Messiah would come. So now Jesus is saying, “You don’t need to fast – I’m here! After I leave, you can fast again. But for now, don’t fast – let’s feast!”
Remember Jesus’ first miracle in John 2? We read there of a wedding feast which lasted for a full week. There was eating, drinking and feasting. There was certainly some Jewish dancing. When the bridegroom and His friends are together, it is a time to celebrate. Nobody fasts at a wedding. It would be rude to do so.
So that is Jesus’ answer in Luke 5:34-35. The religious people want to know why Jesus and His disciples don’t fast like they do, and He tells them that He is going to do ministry in a whole new way.
Jesus illustrates this with three pictures, or three parables in the next several verses.
Look at Luke 5:36. We read Then He spoke a parable to them: He actually is going to give them three parables, or three pictures. We know it is three because of the repeated phrase no one. If you write in your Bibles, circle the words “no one” in Luke 5:36. Then circle the words “no one” in the first part of Luke 5:37, and then also in the first part of Luke 5:39. So we have three pictures, or three parables to illustrate Jesus’ answer.
The first picture, in Luke 5:36, is of a garment and it shows us that Jesus was not here to patch up the old garment. Jesus brings new garments. Look at Luke 5:36:
1. Jesus brings new garments (Luke 5:36)
Luke 5:36. “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.
Most of the time, when we read this, think of an old pair of jeans we have which have holes, and to fix them, we get out a piece of scrap cloth somewhere, and we sew it on. As we all know, if we sew a new piece of cloth onto an old piece of clothing, after a while, the patch will tear away because it shrinks in the wash while the old piece of clothing does not. We think, “Yes, that makes sense. If you are going to patch an old garment, make sure the patch is preshrunk, so that it will be a good fit for the old piece of clothing.”
Now, while this is what Jesus is teaching here, this is not all that Jesus is teaching. Most of the time, Jesus’ parables are humorous and this one definitely is. I’m sure everybody laughed at this picture. Do you see what is so funny about it? Jesus is not just talking about patching an old garment with an old piece of cloth. Do you notice what he says? He says, no one puts a piece from a new garment, from a new piece of clothing, onto an old one. He says, the new piece will make it tear, it won’t match, but even more obvious, why would you want to cut up the new piece of clothing in order to patch the old? Just throw out the old, and wear the new! I’ve got an old pair of jeans at home that has holes. I’m not going to go down to Cost-Co and buy a new pair of jeans, then cut them up so that I can patch the old pair. That’s ludicrous. I’m just going to throw out the old, and wear the new!
Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “Hey, the way you all are serving God? It was okay when it was new. It was a good pair of jeans. God gave it to you in the Old Testament law. But you want to know what? It’s old now. It’s full of holes. And I’m not here to try to patch it up, to make it last another few months. No, I’m here to bring you something completely new. I’m here to hand out new clothes. So don’t go cutting them up to patch up your old clothes. Just wear the new.”
Handing out clothes, by the way, is something that bridegrooms did at their wedding parties. Remember when Samson married the Philistine woman in the book of Judges? He gave garments to all of his wedding guests. Of course, he killed a bunch of men to get the garments, but that was kind of the way Samson did things. Jesus is better than Samson, though, and we read in Revelation 3 that God will give new, white, spotless robes for us to wear. And we read in Isaiah 61:10, which may the verse Jesus had in mind here, that we will be clothed in righteousness.
You see, up to this point, the Jews has been trying to live according to the law. But it could never give them righteousness. All it could do was cover over their sin. And now Jesus is saying, “Look, you’re still wearing your old clothes. They’re stained and soiled and full of holes. The Old Testament law could never make them new. But I have come to give you brand new clothes of righteousness. Don’t try to cut them up to patch the old clothes – just wear the new!”
How about you? Do you have a patchwork religion? The robes of righteousness do not come by adding Christ to the Old Testament law. We do not become righteous by obeying the law and believing in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to hand out fresh, new clothes, free of charge to all who believe in Him alone for it. There is no cost.
You know, sometimes when things need fixing, we settle for trying to patch them up, because it’s too expensive to buy the new. Like when your car needs fixing. Let’s say you need a new transmission. A new transmission is expensive, but it is still much less expensive than going and buying a brand new 2004 car at DePratu Ford. But Jesus comes along and He says, “So, you need a new transmission? Well, I’ve got something better. Why don’t you just go down a pick a car off the car lot for yourself. I’ll pay for it, you just need to go pick it out. Any car you want is yours.”
Would you believe Him, or not? Would you go down a pick out a car, or not? Jesus is offering eternal life to everyone who believes in Him for it, but most people say, “Oh, it can’t be that easy. Where’s the fine print? Or, That’s too generous, Jesus, I’ll pay half.” What the Pharisees were saying is “Well, all I really need, Jesus, is the transmission. So I’ll take it out of the new car, and put it in my old car.”
And Jesus is saying, “Just drive the new one around!” Jesus is offering a whole new way of eternal life – free of charge to all who believe in Him for it. And he is offering a whole new way of doing ministry. Ministry that is a party, full of rejoicing and celebration, rather than strict adherence to laws and regulations. It’s out with the old, in with the new. That’s the picture in verse 36.
Jesus turns then to the second picture, which is a similar idea, but goes a step further. In Luke 5:37-38, we learn that Jesus brings new wineskins (Luke 5:37-38).
2. Jesus brings new wineskins (Luke 5:37-38)
Luke 5:37-38. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.
In the Bible, wine is a symbol of joy, festivity and celebration. And so in these two verses, Jesus is saying that if we want the joy and festivity which He brings to last, we must put it in a new container. The new wine must have a new wineskin. Just as the picture in verse 36 of cutting up new clothes to patch old clothes would have made people laugh, what Jesus suggest here would have brought laughter to his audience as well. Everybody knew how to make wine, and nobody in their right mind would put new wine in old wineskins. The nearest modern parallel I could think of is pop.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to drink pop out of cans. But it’s cheaper in the two liter bottles. Let’s say one day I got a grand idea to save all my empty pop cans, and then went down and bought several two liter containers of pop. When I got home, I open the two liter containers and poured them into the pop cans, then put the cans full of pop back in the fridge. What would happen? The pop would be ruined, right? It would lose it’s fizz. Everybody knows this, which is why nobody does it.
Jesus is telling a very similar joke in Luke 5:37. You see, wineskins were made from goatskins. The goats were slaughtered, and the hides were cleaned and cured. Then the hide was sewn up and the holes where the legs had been were tied up, and the spout of the wineskin was where the neck would be. Newly pressed wine, which is basically grape juice, was poured into the wineskin through the neck, and when it was full, the neck was tied up to make the skin airtight. Over time, the juice would ferment in order to make wine. The fermentation process would produce gas. And this gas would cause the goatskins to expand. But once the skin was used as a wineskin, it had been stretched to it’s limit. After the wine was poured out of it, it would not shrink back to normal. It would stay fully stretched out. And so if somebody came along and poured new wine into the old wineskin, when the new wine started to ferment and produce gasses, the skin would start to stretch some more, but would reach it’s limit and would burst so that both the wine and the wineskins would be ruined.
Jesus is saying, “Nobody pours new wine into old wineskins. This would ruin the wine.” Nobody pours fresh pop into old pop cans. This would ruin the pop. Look, I’m bringing some new wine, and it needs a wineskin. But the old wineskin of the Old Testament has been stretched to its limit. So I need a new wineskin to hold it. The old just won’t do the job.”
In this second picture, Jesus continues to show that He is bringing something totally new and that it doesn’t mix with the old. We saw that with the picture of the clothes already. The new wine in this second picture is equivalent to the new clothes of verse 36. The new wine and the new clothes are a picture of the new Gospel message that eternal life is by faith alone in Christ alone, and the new way of doing ministry through celebration and joy, rather than duty. But now we have a new element as well – the wineskins. What are the wineskins in this second picture? Well, the wineskins hold the wine. The old wineskin held the duty and the obligations, the necessity to obey, and so I believe the old wineskin is the law. It is what held the old way of doing things together.
And we discover over and over again in the Bible that the law has fulfilled its purpose, and it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It has been stretched to its limits. It cannot hold any more wine. And it especially cannot hold the new wine of the Gospel or the new wine of a joyful ministry. There was very little room for joy and celebration in the law. There were too many things to keep track of, too many sins to avoid, too many obligations and responsibilities. There is very little joy in the law.
And so Jesus is bringing a new wineskin to hold His new wine. What is the new wineskin? It is grace. Grace is flexible and stretches, and hold together all sorts of circumstances and people. It covers all and surrounds all. It encompasses all. And no matter how much wine you pour into grace, it can still hold more. Grace is what allows God to give us eternal life simply for believing in Jesus Christ for it. No matter how bad of sinner you are, grace can take you in. The law would never allow that. The law was very rigid; it would not allow many in. But grace is greater than all our sin. It can take every one of us. It can take everyone in the world. The Gospel of grace allows anyone to go to heaven, if they will just believe in Jesus for eternal life.
And beyond that, grace allows us to be joyful in our ministry. You see, the law provided no room for flexibility. No room for differences. It said, “Here are the 613 things you must do to fit in with us, and if you miss any of them, well too bad, you’re out.” But grace gives us the freedom to be different. It gives us the ability to agree to disagree. It gives us the privilege of overlooking a brother’s sin and forgiving him time after time after time.
The greatest book on grace that every single Christian should read is Chuck Swindoll’s The Grace Awakening. It shows us how great grace is. It clearly shows us how flexible this new wineskin of grace is. If I could, I’d buy every Christian a copy of that book and have them read it. Swindoll points out that with grace, five-point Calvinists can get along with Arminians, charismatics can fellowship with dispensationalists, pre-tribulationalists can have post-tribulationalists over for dinner, people who prefer hymns can sing choruses and vice versa, and it’s all because of grace. And if you don’t know what some of those words mean, you know what? That fine too, because of grace! We don’t all have to know the same amount of theology.
Even with grace though, there are some central things we must stand firm on, like the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, and maybe a few others. There are not a lot of hills to die on.
The point is that grace covers us all, and surrounds us all, and we can be joyful and love each other even if we disagree with each other, even if we hurt each other. When grace is present, life is a celebration, and there is joy in all things. There is a spirit of openness, and air of forgiveness, an attitude of compassion. When grace is absent however, there is a lot of finger pointing, name calling, Bible bashing, criticism of others. There is no room for differences. There is no room for disagreement.
This is because grace is concerned with the heart while the law is concerned with the external activity. Grace asks what your heart feels about doing devotions and attending church and serving God; law says it doesn’t matter what you feel, as long as you check everything off your list. Grace says “I love to worship God whenever and wherever I can, and I worship Him as much as I can.” Law says, “You’re not really doing devotions unless you do them first thing in the morning for at least half an hour, and you’re not really a Christian unless you tithe 10% and attend church at least 75% of the time. Oh, and by the way, you had better enjoy it.”
Let me give you a little self-analysis that should help you decide whether you living under law or grace. In your own minds, or on your sermon notes, answer true or false to the following 10 statements.
1. All the problems in my life are a result of sin.
2. Strong emotions are sinful.
3. Simply having fun with no spiritual emphasis is sinful.
4. A person is truly spiritual only when they are perfect.
5. Success in business or being rich is sinful.
6. Becoming a Christian fixes all of life’s problems.
7. If I am not healed from a sickness, it is because of a lack of faith.
8. Drinking, going to movies, and playing cards are wrong for all Christians.
9. If anyone disagrees with my understanding of the Bible, they are wrong.
10. Just because Pastor Jeremy couldn’t think of a 10th point, he is unspiritual.
Answering “True” to any of those statements may be an indication that you are still trying to live in the Old wineskin. That you don’t fully understand grace. Jesus is saying that His new way of doing things will be based all upon grace. The new clothes are the new Gospel and the new way of doing ministry, the new wineskin is the grace which gives us joy and freedom in a way the old law never did.
Finally, Jesus turns to the third picture. And in this third picture, He basically says that this new way of doing things is going to take some getting used to. He brings new wine (Luke 5:39).
3. He brings new wine (Luke 5:39)
Luke 5:39. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
This verse is confusing to some because it is true that the old wine tastes better. Wine gets better with age. Jesus is not disagreeing with this. The old wine vs. new wine doesn’t mean aged wine vs. fresh wine. He is talking about a kind of wine people have been drinking for years, and a new, different kind of wine. I’m not a wine connoisseur, but I am told that people develop a certain taste for a certain kind of wine. Some people prefer red, others prefer white. Some people prefer a particular brand. And generally, when they are presented with a new kind of wine that they are not used to, they don’t like it initially.
This is what Jesus is saying here about His teachings on grace. He is simply asserting that what He is teaching will not immediately be accepted. It will not immediately be liked. The old and familiar status quo seems better because it is not threatening. The new way of doing things demands that we change. And people don’t like change. People who are used to functioning under the law don’t immediately like grace. It’s uncomfortable. It seems too loose. There’s no lists and boundaries that many of us prefer. For some people, when they first taste grace, it seems to have no flavor, or it is a flavor they’re not used to. Grace is an acquired tasted.
One person says, “You mean, there’s not a list of guidelines I have to follow to know if I’m spiritual or not?” Nope. “But I liked the guidelines and the rules. They let me know where the boundaries were.” Sorry, there aren’t any with grace. Another one says, “Do I understand it correctly to say that grace should forgive a brother who sins against me every time he does it? I have to keep forgiving him forever?” Yep. “Oh, I don’t like that. There should be a limit – like seven times, and then no more forgiveness.” Sorry, grace is unlimited. True grace also allows from the possibility that people will abuse it. At least, that’s what Paul says in Romans 5-6. And this is a hard thing for some people to swallow. It’s hard to allow that kind of risk.
So at the first taste of grace, most people prefer the old law. Grace takes some getting used to. But if we give it time, we always end up enjoying it more than the law. Learning to live in grace can take years, but when it finally clicks with us, it releases us from the fear of rejection and the endless lists of responsibilities, it keeps us from comparing ourselves with one another, it brings joy and peace into our lives. The benefits of grace far outweigh the familiarity of burden of the law. The law is a harsh master, but after a while, we get used to it and it feels comfortable. But grace, though scary at first, is liberating and freeing.
Have you seen the move Shawshank Redemption? It’s a story about a banker named Andy who is accused of murdering his wife. He is innocent, but found guilty, and so put in prison In prison, Andy becomes good friends with another convict named Red. One day, a friend of theirs was let out on parole after being in prison for almost his entire life. This man who had lived his whole life in prison didn’t know how to function when he was set free, and so he ended up committing suicide.
Red and Andy are trying to understand it. All they want is freedom, and they cannot understand why their friend committed suicide after gaining freedom. Red and Andy are sitting in the prison courtyard staring that the dingy, gray stone walls, and Red says, “At first you hate these walls. Then you get used to them. Then you don’t think you can live without them.”
That’s living under the law. It’s living as a prisoner. It’s living with boundaries and stone walls and chains. It sound’s bad, but when you get used to it, you can’t imagine living in any other way. And that’s why many convicts, when they gain their freedom, struggle with functioning in society.
The movie ends with Andy escaping prison and going to Mexico where he starts a charter fishing company. Red gets parole, and he also goes down to Mexico to help with the charter fishing company. Neither of them know what the future hold or whether the company will be successful, or where they will get their next meal. They are taking a risk, but they are free. They are both doing what they’ve always dreamed of doing. That is a picture of grace.
Jesus wants us to do things in a whole new way. Rev. 21:5 says that He will make all things new. As the Great Physician, He offers new life and new spiritual health. As the Bridegroom, He offers new love and joy. He makes us new creations, and gives us a new spirit. And greatest of all, He gives us the new life of grace to live by. No more living under the bondage of the law. Now He offers the new life of celebration and joy. A new life of flexibility. Jesus is saying that you cannot reform religion; it has to be replaced with something new and better, which is the Gospel of Grace.
Like Galileo, Jesus from Galilee was eventually put to death for the changes he brought. But how grateful we can be for those changes because the new way is definitely better.
I enjoyed your explaination of this verse. It’s nice to the big picture of what Jesus was meaning and also to see things in context for that time. Very refreshing. Thanks
This is a very good teaching on grace. It seems unfortunate to end it with a statement on Jesus’ death. I understand the point, of course, but perhaps one more sentence could have been added, such as: “Through the power of the resurrection of Christ we live under grace.”
Edgar C Mumba says
Well written. Thanks
Great explanation and modern day analogies – thank you.
Hi Pastor Jeremy! I’m a Catholic seminarian from the Philippines and am currently writing an exegesis/reflection on these verses for our weekly local newsletter. Thank you for this wonderful reflection. This is refreshing as it is original just like what its topic is all about. I’m sure to follow your reflections from now. God bless you always. You’re in my prayers 🙂
Wonderfully explained. God bless you
Josie Johnson says
Wow, Thank you so much for this explanation, it made me understand those verse much better and I really enjoyed the analogy.
So can we say this whole “modified” way of serving God is still going on in this internet age or it stopped with Jesus? Are we today’s Christians too supposed to live a modern Christian life by grace or hold onto Paul’s teachings of centuries ago.
Jacqueline van Der Westhuizen says
Wow. That is the best explanation of that verse I read this morning. Do grateful google showed me your website! How refreshing. Sweet sweet grace.