One thing that the religious leaders always seemed to be trying to do was to pit John the Baptist versus Jesus. And John’s disciples fell for it every time. First, these leaders pointed out to John’s disciples that Jesus was baptizing more people than John (John 3:25-26 — I should say that it’s not certain whether it was a religious leader that did this, but I think it’s a good guess). Then here, they have John’s disciples questioning Jesus as to why he and his disciples didn’t fast as they did.
Why did the Pharisees and others do this? Probably to rob Jesus of his credibility. John the Baptist, after all, did point to Jesus as the Messiah.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that Jesus brought up the illustration of a wedding. John did the very same thing earlier when told about Jesus baptizing more than him. He said he was like the best man in the wedding, while Jesus was the bridegroom. Perhaps in using this illustration, Jesus was trying to remind them of that.
John was gone. He was in prison. His work was done. Yet for some reason, his disciples maintained their loyalty to John, and apparently weren’t interested in going after Jesus as Andrew and one other disciple of John had done. (John 1:35-40).
Jesus told them, “John told you I am the bridegroom. Why should people fast and mourn while the bridegroom is there? When the bridegroom leaves, there will be plenty of time for that. But now is not the time for fasting and praying because I am here. When I leave, that will be the time to be fasting and praying.”
Then he told them a parable, talking about patches and wineskins which the people then could understand easily, but are a little difficult to understand in our day.
But think about it this way, if you put a brand new piece of denim to patch up a pair of old jeans, what will happen if you wash it? The denim will shrink, and ruin the jeans.
Nowadays, people put wine in bottles, but in those days, they used goatskins to make bottles for wine. As the wine fermented, the skin would expand, so if you ever put new wine into an old wineskin, the wineskin would burst because it had already expanded, and could expand no further.
What was Jesus telling John’s disciples (and for that matter, the Pharisees that were looking on)?
Basically, he was saying, “God is doing something new. I, the Son of God, am here, and I am reaching out to the lost and dying. I’m building a kingdom that will last forever. But you are like the old wineskins. You are so in love with your old ways, that God can’t use you.”
For the Pharisees, they were in love with all the laws and regulations. To them, that was the most important thing, not people. As a result, they were looking down on the very people God was trying to save. They were more interested in sacrifices and religious ritual than saving people.
For John’ s disciples, perhaps they fell too much in love with their teacher. They forgot what John’s purpose was. It wasn’t merely to baptize people or to call people to repentance. It was to prepare the people for Jesus and get them following him.
But instead of going to Jesus, even after John was gone, they missed out on what God wanted of them. God was pouring new wine, the work of the Spirit, through the ministry of Jesus. But John’s disciples were clinging to the teachings and practices of John, and saying, “The old is better.” (Luke 5:39)
How about you? Are you open to the Spirit’s work in your life? Or are you clinging to traditions? To legalistic righteousness? Or even to things that were important and effective in their time, but whose time has passed.
In order for God to use you, you need to constantly be watching for what he is doing now, and joining in with his work, even if it’s different from what you’ve done in the past.
Are you an old wineskin, or a new one?