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Jesus’ New Wine

January 1, 2013

A lot of old wine has now been consumed celebrating the new year. Such celebrations, however, cannot escape the guilty conscience of the old year; some things never change, like the proverbial death and taxes.

As Jesus faced his imminent death, he shared a cup of wine with his disciples. He revealed that this wine was actually “my blood of the covenant”  that is poured out for many for the purpose of forgiveness of sins (Mt. 26:28). Like the blood of the covenant in Ex. 24:8–that Moses sprinkled on Israel to ratify the covenant (and its commands) they had just promised to obey–Jesus’ new wine/blood will ratify his new covenant (and its new commands), and include forgiveness of sins for many. Then on one special day in the future (the risen) Jesus would drink the wine new with his (risen) disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Mt. 26:29).

Among the many that Jesus called to follow him, and become part of his new kingdom of disciples, was a tax collector named Matthew. When Matthew abandoned his profitable, and despised, tax profession, he hosted Jesus and his disciples in a celebration that included other tax collectors and sinners (Mt. 9:9-10). After the Pharisees complained that this “rabbi” was drinking with the wrong crowd, Jesus told them they needed to learn what Hosea meant (in Hos. 6:6) when he wrote (about God), saying, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt. 9:11-13).

Hosea and other prophets of the kingdom of Israel complained that the people loved to assemble for sacrifices and offerings that would forgive their sin and pledge their future loyalty. Yet their promised love for God and love for others in need disappeared like the morning dew. Likewise, Jesus portrays his new wine (of love towards many, including despised outcasts)  and new wineskins (his new kingdom of disciples) as a contrast with the old wine of sacrifices and fasting by the Pharisees (Mt. 9:14-17). And Jesus again quotes Hos. 6:6–God desires mercy (love), and not sacrifice–after Pharisees complain that his disciples have picked wheat on the sabbath because they are hungry (Mt. 12:1-8). Jesus tells them something greater than the temple, and the sabbath, is now here; showing mercy and love to the needy is greater than sacrifices and fasts in the temple or synagogue.

As in Israel, it is easy for many churches to think they can satisfy God by mere assemblies, where “priestly” hierarchies presumptuously pronounce them forgiven, and praise them for their joining in the solemn rite of “communion.” It is indeed too easy for churches to drink the communion cup and remember Jesus’ sacrifice for forgiveness of sins and at the same time forget his new wine that is full of mercy and love, especially love for the needy and outcasts. Numerous church members suppose their sacrifices of tithes or offerings to build “temples” and pay “priests” will satisfy God; surely their special times of attending these assemblies and accepting these pronouncements and offering their gifts are acceptable sacrifices.

Jesus’ new wine, however, is not compatible with old wine in old wineskins; too many churches look and act like Israel’s former synagogues or temple. Jesus’ mercy and love looked instead like small groups of disciples meeting in homes, sharing food generously and teaching one another faithfully, welcoming and helping the poorest and most needy among them and around them. Yet even in the earliest Jerusalem house churches there were problems with neglecting certain widows; and in Corinthian churches some were eating most of the food and getting drunk before poor members arrived. Churches are not necessarily the new wineskins of Jesus’ new kingdom of disciples.

As the years go by, there are still many poor and needy who are neglected outcasts in various churches. Even some churches that offer them food through food pantries (some of which was thrown out by grocery stores and collected by church volunteers) do so with patronizing: follow our rules (“only one bag a month”), accept our Savior (“his sacrifice will forgive your sins”), and attend our church (“our assemblies are worthy of your support”). If old wineskins “spill” Jesus’ new wine, then new wineskins are needed, wineskins that can preserve and provide the new wine.

  1. I’ve always wondered about how the new church must have looked in Acts when more than 6000 people were saved and baptized, and added to the church, all in a short period of time. Wouldn’t you love to have been there?

    • I would indeed have loved to have been there: hearing directly from the apostles, as they taught in homes; sharing food with so many widows in need, as they broke bread in homes; and spreading the message to others, as they spoke and taught in the temple courts (the outer courts that were in the open air). It would also have been challenging: threats from the Sanhedrin, controversies over some widows being neglected, and conflict over whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised and keep the whole Jewish law.

      • Not much different from today, really, is it? Sadly.

      • The saddest part is that our conflicts today are often not about which widows should be helped or about threats from governing authorities outside the churches; instead, we tend to identify our churches over against other churches based on which church leaders we consider the greatest, or which church rituals or worship we think are most correct (most similar possibly to the churches in Corinth at Paul’s time).

      • Paul himself told us that to compare ourselves among ourselves is foolish ( II Cor. 10:12). I realize the passage is referring to other matters as well, but still. Foolish.

      • It is foolish to elevate certain leaders because they are skilled in speaking (2 Cor. 11:6)–we love eloquent preachers–or because they are strong and demanding (2 Cor. 11:20)–making slaves out of us, or preying upon us (especially financially), or taking advantage of us, or putting on airs, or even striking us in the face. Paul considered what we call preaching today as “lofty words” and (Greek) “wisdom” (rhetoric); in such cases, our faith ends up focusing on the wisdom of men rather than the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5). And Paul contrasted his “weakness” (of suffering persecution, dangers, and poverty) with the “strength” of those who are dominating those under them (2 Cor. 11:20-30).

  2. A happy new year, brother Lucas!

    Challenging churches towards justice and kindness is good; but there may be something just a little pharisaical in judging so many churches, so generally, as you do. Perhaps there are such churches, but my UK experience is that many of those who attend their churches are also those who as volunteers support the homeless and the destitute. If one removed church members from the voluntary organisations that seek justice and care for the poor, they would collapse instantly. In the poorest areas of Scotland, churches are often the only bodies which actually share the lives of poor people; and the only agencies whose workers do not change every six weeks.

    I am a friend of the Iona Community which since the 1930’s has had an vital prophetic role on matters of justice and peace in Scotland and beyond. You can easily find them with Google. Their most effective strategy over the years has been to encourage members to live and work in areas of urban deprivation. This strengthened and envigorated the churches in theses areas.

    Often the new wineskins turn out to be communities of the economically poor who treat each other with justice and mutual support and share their human riches. Sometimes these are also churches.

    Perhaps your experience of churches is very different from mine?



    • Happy new year to you also Mike.
      I did judge many churches, and in a general way; but I did not include all churches, and I know there are various churches that do better at preserving and providing Jesus’ new wine. I also understand that such strong judgments might be considered pharisaical, since the scribes and Pharisees were constantly judging Jesus and his disciples. Yet it is also true that Jesus pronounced strong judgments (including woes) against the scribes and Pharisees as well. And Paul likewise had strong words for several of the churches he addressed in his letters; John revealed Jesus’ strong words against five of the seven churches addressed in Rev. 2-3. So I think there is a place for Christians to speak strongly against churches they see as generally in need of repentance; it is not necessarily pharisaical to do so.
      The issue then is whether the judgments are correct and true. You mention the church members who serve as volunteers to help the destitute. We do have numerous members like that here in the U.S. also. Those I have known, and volunteered with, were indeed willing to give up a few hours a week to help out, and willing to give a limited amount of money or food to help out. But most of their money given to the church did not go to the destitute or organizations working with them; most of their money went to pay for building maintenance and staff salaries (pastors, etc.). My point was that most of the early churches met in homes and so could use most of their money for the needy, including even certain leaders in their churches that were in need. They were not building or maintaining places to meet (not until later decades or centuries, returning to more of a synagogue or temple model), and were not paying salaries and did not have professional “staff.” When all those things became front and center, the funds for, and emphasis on, helping the destitute became less and less.
      In the U.S. many church members do not even have any contact with destitute people. So those members you mentioned that live and work in areas of deprivation are making an important step. I agree that the economically poor themselves are often those who show the most concern for those in even greater need than they are. And I agree that there are churches like that, especially the growing number of house churches all around the world, including poor Christians in places like China. I have had some experience in house churches in the U.S. and overseas, and have found some of them to be full of compassion for the needy and others just wanting to be more like an “official” church.
      Thanks for your response.

  3. Since you see so clearly to be able to pick every mote out of the eyes of church and para-church ministry who are actually feeding the poor and providing other mercies, my questions are, What alternative do you suggest? Indeed, what alternative deeds are you doing?? Thanks, Kevin.

    • Your mention of picking out every mote from the eyes of churches alludes to Mt. 7:3-5 where Jesus criticizes the one who sees the mote (speck) in the eye of a brother but does not see the beam (log) in his own eye. This suggests that you think I have a log in my own eye, and cannot see clearly to pick out every speck in churches.
      The alternative I suggested in the post pointed to the earliest house churches, who used most of their funds for helping the needy rather than paying for buildings or professional salaries. I myself have been part of various house churches, some of which used most of their funds for helping the needy. At other times I have just tried to personally get in contact with the needy and give generously to them (though my income has usually been at a poverty level as well). In Mt. 6:1-4 Jesus affirms giving alms to the poor but adds that his disciples should not do so in order to be applauded by others; thus I will not give any details as to how I give.
      I do not consider the neglect of the needy by many churches to be a mere “mote” (speck). I think Jesus and the New Testament command and emphasize practical compassion to the needy; and serious questions are raised concerning Christians or churches who do not keep those commands, and neglect the needy. In Mt. 23:23-24 Jesus says “mercy” is part of the weightier matters of the law; yet the scribes and Pharisees were straining at gnats (like tithing seasonings) and swallowing a camel. When Jesus tells the rich man to sell his expensive possessions and give to the poor and follow him, and the rich man refuses, Jesus says it is hard for a rich man to enter his kingdom of disciples. Only with God’s help is it possible; and this grace is seen in a rich man like Zacchaeus, who gives half of his goods to the poor. In 1 Cor. 11, where some members are eating much of the food and getting drunk before poor members arrived, Paul says they are guilty of profaning the body and blood of their Lord (the bread and wine that was part of their “agape” meals). The epistle of James is full of warnings to readers who disregard helping the poor; 1 Jn. 3:17 says if one has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? These passages are just a brief sampling of a major concern of Jesus and the N.T.
      Churches that feed the poor and provide other mercies are making important steps toward doing what Jesus commands. In my experience, those steps have usually been minor and sometimes patronizing compared to how they support their church buildings and staffs. But I have been part of house churches, and know of others like them, who used much of their church funds for showing mercy (since there was no building or professional staff to use up most of their income). My warnings are meant to echo those of the N.T. and to help churches repent from their partial blindness about Jesus’ new wine.

  4. Prior to God working a change in my heart I was a churchman – secretly hard hearted and judging. I was sounded very gentle and humble but that was skin deep. Inside I wasn’t. I still struggle with hypocrisy. By the Blood of Jesus I overcome daily. I never had much sympathy for drunks and dope addicts, even when my son was living on the streets of Vancouver – it took God giving me a terrible vision of myself for me to change.

  5. ray hester permalink

    Seeing Lucas Dawn’s name, and comments, on our parish blog (All Saints Episcopal Church, Mobile, Alabama), I wondered how our blog became known to him. Does he often look at blogs around the country and submit comments? Where does Lucas Dawn live?

    • Yes, I use the Google “blog search” that pulls up blogs that contain certain words or topics I have entered in the search box; this brings up a large number of blogs from around the country, and outside the country. And yes, I do this in order to submit comments, if I think I can contribute something worthwhile. I myself live in the U.S., the Midwest.

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