In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that the power of the computer chip would double every 18 months. He has been right until recently! Technology advances so fast that we can’t keep up. What looks new and fast this year, will be old and slow next. That’s a modern illustration of what Jesus is saying about wineskins. The old has passed away and is now obsolete, the new has come and new ways don’t fit with the old.
The new covenant has new power, new responsibilities and a new hope that just wasn’t there before. We saw yesterday that in the old covenant touching a leper made you unclean, now touching a leper could make them clean, healed and free. In v39 Jesus says how people don’t like change – they prefer the old wine. Change is here to say though. God is making all things new. God is growing the Gateway Church and ways of leading that worked for 50 people no longer work as we blast past 120 to get to 200. So we are replacing old leadership wineskins with new. Janet and are no longer leading a life group, caring for the 25; now we are caring, hopefully more effectively, for 25 life group leaders and trainees who will in turn care for their own life groups.
There was a road accident on the roundabout outside my school when I was about 15 years old. A moped rider was knocked off his moped and was lying in the middle of the roundabout groaning, a panic stricken motorist was shaking and gridlock was starting. A crowd was watching. I marched up, sent two people off to dial 999 from a local house, got someone to calm the motorist down, others to clear the road after noting the position of vehicles, lastly made sure no-one took the man’s helmet off until paramedics had checked him over. ‘What right do you have to boss adults around?’ could have been the question – I wasn’t trained, I wasn’t in a policeman’s uniform or carrying a warrant card but I did have bad hair and knew what was needed until the police and paramedics arrived. That’s an illustration of how Jesus might have appeared to some of those around him – He was not a priest, or a Pharisee, he’d had no formal training and yet He was speaking with authority.
This passage is less about “Do we or don’t we keep the Sabbath?” and more about “Who did Jesus think He was?” from both perspectives!
In the first incident the disciples pick some corn to eat on the Sabbath – they are working! So Jesus uses the story of David eating the bread of the presence out of the tabernacle to make a point. Only the priests were allowed in. What right did David have to do that? David had been anointed the king of Israel, but Saul was still on the throne. At the time he just had a rag tag band of followers. Jesus has been anointed Israel’s King, but He too only has a rag tag band of followers. Jesus is making the point that He too is the rightful King of Israel and has the right to suspend the rules when necessary. That’s really annoying for the Pharisees and Priests, as Sabbath-keeping is an identity marker for being a Jew under the old covenant. In the new covenant, the identity marker is being Spirit-filled – a new wineskin.
The second story, of the healing of a man with a withered hand, raises the stakes and drives the point home harder. What counts is that God is honoured and good is done. Jesus didn’t actually break the rules as He didn’t reach out and work by touching the man. But He is saying that He is free to do whatever is needed to bless, show the goodness of God and honour the Father.
We are no longer bound by the law, we are under grace. It’s a new wineskin where we live in the favour of God and bring that favour to others.