The Parables of Jesus
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

The Parable of New Wine in Old Bottles

In Luke 5:27-28 we have the call of Matthew or Levi, who was a tax collector (or publican):

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth.  “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

Now I want you to get the picture.  Matthew was a tax collector.  A tax collector was despised.  He was looked upon as a sinner, as a traitor to the Jewish cause and he was looked upon as out of reach of salvation.  The Pharisees, the religious leaders of Christ’s day gave the tax collectors no hope of salvation.  By this time Jesus’ name was quite famous and Jesus comes and says to Matthew, “I want you to be one of my disciples.”

Can you imagine what that must have done to Matthew?  He was so excited that not only did he leave everything and follow Christ but the next verse (29) says:

Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.

He had a big party.  Of course, he wouldn’t invite the scribes and Pharisees; they wouldn’t come, I suppose.  The “others” were “sinners” like them.  Here was a big feast where all the publicans and sinners came — and Jesus was with them — rejoicing that Jesus had given them hope.

But now look at verse 30:

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to this disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

Now remember, in the Jewish culture eating and drinking with somebody was more than a social event.  When Jesus ate with publicans and sinners, He was simply saying that, “I accept you; I welcome you.”  And that was completely in contradiction to the Jewish teaching.

So they began to murmur and Jesus answered in verse 31:

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Then in verse 32 (I want you to keep this in mind):

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

In other words, “I came to save sinners.”  Judaism only saved the righteous.  Christ came to save sinners.  So there was a complete contrast of these two positions.

Verse 33 says,

They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

They could not answer back, so they turned around to something else.  Jesus said something very interesting in reply in verse 34:

Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?”

Now this may mean nothing to you, but the Jews were very familiar with Psalms 19:1-6 which identified the coming of the Messiah with the bridegroom:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.  In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.  It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

So what He was telling the Pharisees and scribes was, “Why should my disciples fast when the Messiah is here?”  But, He said (verse 35):

“But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

It was in this context that He gave these two parables.  Now Christ’s parables were taken from the daily life experiences.  Unfortunately, we are living 2,000 years later so I need to explain to you what those two illustrations were in order to understand the significance.

Verse 36:

He told them this parable:  “ No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews on an old one.  If he does, he will have torn that new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.”

Remember, that is the first parable.  In the days of Christ there were only two kinds of material — cotton and wool — and neither of them had the advantages of the synthetic material that we have today.  They all shrink when you wash them for the first time.  Of course, today we have pre-shrunk wool and pre-shrunk cotton but in those days they did not have pre-shrunk material.

I remember when I was at Newbold [College, U.K.], a young lady who was sweet on me made me a jumper [sweater].  She finally won because she’s my wife today.  We were allowed a quota of how many clothes we could give to the school for washing.  The school would wash a certain amount of clothes.  It was part of the allowance like the cafeteria allowance in school here.  So, after wearing it for a while, I gave this jumper to be washed and the girl who did it forgot that it was wool and so when it came back it was three times smaller than when it went in.  There was no way I could wear it.  And I looked and I looked and I looked and I finally found a student who was small enough so it would fit and I gave it to him.

Let’s say you have a coat and the elbow is worn out.  The coat has been washed several times and has shrunk to its maximum shrinkage condition.  If you put a new patch of cloth on it and you wash it, what happens to the new patch?  It shrinks; the old doesn’t shrink any more, it has shrunk as much as it can.  So the new patch tears away.  In other words the two materials are incompatible.  That is what Christ is trying to get across:

“If he does, he will have torn that new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.”

The second parable, verses 37-38:

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”

The wine makers used sheepskin or goatskin for bottles.  When you look at them it looks horrifying when you first see it.  In the Middle East they use it for water, too.  Have you ever seen a dead animal bloated up?  That’s what it looks like.  When they slaughter an animal they cut it open and then they stitch the whole animal back to its position, the front legs and back legs, and the neck is the opening part.

When they made wine they put this wine in and they allowed it to ferment in the skin.  Now new skin is flexible; it’s soft, and, when the wine fermented, it expanded and the skin expanded with it.  No problem.  Then, after so many days, it was mature; it was ready for selling.  They would sell it gradually or use it and when the wine was finished the skin was no longer usable to make new wine.  The reasons were, number one, the wineskin had stretched to its maximum capacity.  Number two, when the wine was gone it did not shrink back.  It remained stretched and it dried.  So if you put new wine into it, it would have to expand further and the skin would not take it.  It would burst and he would lose the bottle and the wine at the same time.

What was Jesus trying to get across to the people with whom He spoke?  Remember, He was responding to the scribes and Pharisees.  What was their religion?  Their religion was a religion of dos and don’ts.  Religion to them was not a joyous expression of God’s blessings on them.  Religion to them was dos and don’ts; they had long faces; they looked miserable.

For example, Moses commanded that they should fast once a year.  By the time of Christ, tradition had made it twice a week so they would fast twice a week.  Remember the Sermon on the Mount?  They had ashes on their faces, rags, long faces.  To them salvation was very hard, very difficult.  In a nutshell, the religion of the scribes and Pharisees was called the Old Covenant.

The message that Christ brought was radical; it was revolutionary; it was so contradictory to the traditional Judaism that the two were incompatible.  And the two that are incompatible are the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  Here you have two covenants; one was taught by the Pharisees, the other by the scribes.

Before I turn to these covenants, let me give you a couple of verses to show you to what I am referring.  Please turn in your Bible to Romans 4.  Romans 4:14:

For if those who live by law are heirs...

What does he mean by that?  “Those of you who are trying to go to heaven by the works of the law”; that’s what he’s means.  He is not talking here about the law as a standard of Christian living; He is talking here of the law as a method of going to heaven.

For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless....

You cannot have it both ways.  It’s either one or the other.  You cannot mix the two.  You cannot put a new patch on an old garment.  You can’t put new wine in an old bottle.  They are incompatible.

Another text that I would like you to turn to is Galatians 3:18 and Paul is saying the same thing here:

For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

You can’t have it both ways, says Paul.  Now, what is the difference between the Old and the New Covenants?  There are many Christians who say that the difference between the Old and the New Covenants has to do with time.  No, it has nothing to do with time.  They teach — and this is the Dispensational teaching — that from Moses to Christ was the dispensation of the Old Covenant and from Christ to us, to the end of time is the dispensation of the New Covenant.

The Bible does not teach such nonsense.  The Bible teaches that men were only saved by one covenant, the New Covenant, often called the Everlasting Covenant.  Then what is the difference?  I’ll give you several differences.

  1. The Old Covenant was based on man’s promise, “All that you say, we will do.”  The New Covenant is based on God’s promise.  That is why the book of Hebrews calls it a better promise.

  2. The Old Covenant depends on human ability.  The New Covenant is based on God’s provision.  Two opposite concepts.  In other words, the Old Covenant is a covenant of works.  The New Covenant is a covenant of grace.  This is the distinction between the two.

What Christ is saying in these two parables is that legalism and salvation by grace are incompatible.  You cannot mix them together.  They do not go together.  You cannot synthesize them.  They are two opposite, contradictory ways of salvation.  One is man-made, the basis of all pagan religions.  The other is from above.

I want to make it very clear what the Bible says.  Turn to Hebrews 8.  When Christ came to this world, He did not come to refine Judaism.  He did not come to improve it.  He came to take it away and replace it with the new.  Hebrews 8:13:

By calling this convenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

In Hebrews 10:9, he goes on to say:

Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.”  He sets aside the first to establish the second.

Hebrews 8:6-9:

But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.  For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.  But God found fault with the people [please notice where the fault was; it was with them] and said:  “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord....”

The Old Covenant failed not because the law was faulty but the fault was with the people.  The people could not keep the promise.  Their ability was insufficient to fulfill the law of God.  In the New Covenant, Christ is our righteousness, both in terms of our standing before God and in terms of our daily living.  It is always, “Not I, but Christ.”

The reason I have chosen this parable is that we are facing a similar crisis.  Some years ago there was an excellent article in the Review and Herald.  The title of the article was, “From Sinai to Golgotha.”  It was well documented.  It presented — the document proved — that Ellen G. White used more and more grace terms and less and less law as she progressed in life.  The idea was her knowledge of the gospel was increasing as she went along.  While I see eye-to-eye with the research work, I myself feel that Ellen G. White understood the gospel right from the beginning.  But I’ll give you the reason I believe why she changed:  she began to use more grace terms.  It’s not because her knowledge of the gospel was increasing but because a problem was creeping into our church that had to be solved.

In our attempt as a people to fight against the Dispensational teaching which was doing away with the law, we got into the tendency of going to the other extreme and preaching the law and the law until we were as dry as the hills of Gilboa.  I’ll give you some evidence.  In 1874, 17 August to 19 December, Uriah Smith published a series of articles called “The Leading Doctrines of the Review” with no mention of justification by faith.  In 1877, Uriah Smith and James White conducted jointly a Bible Institute for pastors.  The studies published, called “Bible Institute,” had no mention of righteousness by faith.  In 1878, Uriah Smith published a book called Synopsis of Present Truth, 336 pages long, which contained no mention of righteousness or justification by faith.

So we were becoming so heavy on the law that I think Sister White realized that we were out of balance.  In fact, if you read the book Faith and Works, she makes the statement, “On the one hand, religionists [and I think she was referring to Dispensationalists] generally have divorced the law and the gospel while we [that is, we SDAs] have, on the other hand, almost done the same thing from another standpoint.  We have not upheld before the people the righteousness and the full significance of His great plan of salvation.”

I think that she saw this danger and so she began to try to correct it, because I read this statement in the later years (1890):  “For nearly two years we have been urging the people to come and accept the light and the truth concerning the righteousness of Christ and they do not know whether to come and take hold of this precious truth or not.  [That new wine was too much for them.] They are bound about their own ideas.”  Remember how the parable goes?  The old wine tastes better than the new.

Then she goes on to say this is the Review and Herald, 11 March 1890:  “You will meet with those who will say, ‘You are too much excited over this matter.  You are too much in earnest.  You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ and making so much of that.  You should preach the law.’ [And she responds] As a people we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew or rain.  We must preach Christ in the law and there will be sup and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food for the famishing flock of God.”

In Gospel Workers, page 301, I have a statement in the very back of my Bible to remind myself.  She makes this statement over the argument they had in those days over the gospel:  “This I do know [you may be fighting among yourselves] that our churches are dying for the want of the teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths.”

We cannot mix the two together.  But now comes the problem.  There are many who feel that if you preach righteousness by faith you are doing away with the law; you are doing away with Christian living.  No, true justification by faith always produces holiness of living.  A group of us met with deep concerns because our church is polarizing into camps.  There are three major camps and all the camps are very sincere.  They all have a burden for God’s people.

We analyzed that.  “What can we do?” we said, and we discovered something very interesting that I would like to share with you.  First of all, we looked at their objectives and we discovered that all three objectives of the three camps were genuine, were legitimate, and were essential to our needs today.  One camp has a great burden that our people realize that God is love.  Our people desperately need to know that.  There are many who look at God as a vindictive tyrant ready to push you in the fire every mistake you have done.  So their great burden is that God is love.  No one can complain with that objective.

The problem we faced was the method.  They lean very heavily on what we call the “moral influence theory,” which does present God as love but at the expense of God’s justice.  You cannot present one truth at the expense of another.  That is not the gospel.  At the cross, love and justice met together.  You see, the moral influence theory is heretical not because of what it teaches but what it denies.  It denies the legal framework of the atonement.  It teaches that Christ did not have to die to pay any price to save us.  He died only to demonstrate that He loves us.  So while we shared the objectives, the answer was, “No,” we cannot agree with the method.

Then we went to the second group’s position.  Their greatest burden is that our people have security of salvation, assurance of salvation.  In 1975, the Personal Ministry Department of the General Conference at Vienna reported that only 10 percent, 10 out of every 100 — and this is the world field, including Africa and Inter America where we have tremendous witnessing — only 10 percent of the world field membership is involved in any form of witnessing; 90 percent are simply sitting down and doing nothing.

The question was raised, “What can we do about it?” One man stood up and said, “Brethren, it is not because we lack programs.  We have enough programs in our files to fill this auditorium but our people will not witness unless they are sure of their own salvation.  You cannot witness something you are not sure about yourself.”  We all felt that burden was legitimate, but to use the evangelical gospel which leads to cheap grace is where the problem was, we felt.  You can’t lift up justification and say it is all that righteousness by faith is about and that sanctification doesn’t belong to it.  From beginning to end it is by faith alone.  It is justification by faith, it is sanctification by faith, and my glorification will be the result of faith alone.

Then we went to the third group.  Their objectives are very good, very legitimate.  Their great concern is victorious living, character perfection.  Do we need that today?  I’ll tell you, we are living in a scientific age and science will not believe anything without a demonstration.  As the famous pagan philosopher Nietzche who was the son of a pastor (he was a Pastor’s kid who became an atheist) said to the Christian church, “If you expect me to believe in your Redeemer, you Christians will have to look a lot more redeemed.”

Brethren, before the end comes, God is going to lighten this earth with His glory.  We shared that burden, we agreed with that burden, but you cannot produce victorious living by hammering at victorious living.  That is not where “the rubber meets the road.”  That is not where it is because holiness of living is the fruit of justification by faith.  I believe that the message that God brought to this church 100 years ago, the message of Christ our righteousness, correctly understood, and faith, correctly understood, will produce a people who believe in a loving God and who will serve Him not because they are afraid of Him; they will serve Him because He first loved them and gave Himself for them.

I believe that message will produce a people who will want to vindicate God, who will say with Paul, “Take me God; use me.  I want to be Yours fully and completely.”  There will be a people who will not be afraid to die because they know in whom they believe.  They know that in Christ they stand secure.  They have built their house on the rock, Jesus Christ.

But here is the problem.  This message is radical.  You cannot put it in your legalistic mind.  It does not make sense.  You have to come to this message with an open mind like the disciples had to do.  The disciples were like rest of the Jews; they had preconceived ideas.  Jesus spent almost three years with them and at the end of the three years they still had not understood the gospel.  Why?  Was it because the teaching of Jesus was hard?  No.  It is because they were trying to put new wine into the old bottles and it could not match.  They could not handle the teaching of Christ.

So God had to undo what they had learned all their lifetime.  It took more than three years for that to happen.  When Paul was called to be an apostle of Christ, when he was converted, God could not fully use him straightway.  God had to take him to the desert of Arabia and undo his false theology because his old theology could not take the new theology of Christ.

So, I want you to go to scripture and study for yourselves.  Come with an open mind.  Forget your upbringing.  Forget the things that you were taught and ask yourself — be prayerful — “Is this of God or is this heresy?”  In other words, don’t condemn anything that you hear just because it does not agree with what you were taught.

I would like to conclude by a statement that is found in Ellen G. White’s Counsels to Writers and Editors, page 35:  “Let us come to the word of God with open minds that we may learn from God what is truth.”  (This statement was made regarding those who were opposing righteousness by faith.)  “There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error.  The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible.  Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair.  No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”

I want you to investigate.  Let me explain the background of this.  The Adventist church came out of the Millerite movement.  When Miller first began his studies on the book of Daniel, one of the questions that he asked himself was, “What did Daniel mean by the word ‘sanctuary’?”  There were six views in those days.  It could mean the heavenly sanctuary; it could mean the earthly sanctuary; it could mean the Jews; it could mean the earth; it could mean the Christian church; and there was one other.  He sat down and he came to the conclusion that the sanctuary that Daniel had in mind was the earth and the Christian church.  He rejected the others.

When the disappointment came, God revealed that it was the heavenly sanctuary that Daniel had in mind.  A few years later when Waggoner and Jones came up with the idea that the cleansing of the sanctuary includes the church, it was thought that they were going back to Millerite teaching.  You see, Miller believed that because the sanctuary was the earth and the church, the coming of Christ would be the cleansing of the sanctuary.  The earth would be cleansed by fire.  The church would be cleansed by this corruption putting on incorruption.

When Waggoner and Jones said the heavenly is the church also they said, “No, you are going back to Millerite.”  But his interpretation was different from the Millerite interpretation and so they argued.  It was the same over the law of Galatians.  It was the same over righteousness by faith.  So Sister White said, “Don’t condemn these men until you study for yourselves.”

If you hear anything new, go to the word of God.  Please make this the measuring stick.  Come with an open mind, because those Pharisees lost a blessing by rejecting Jesus Christ just because what He taught, what He did, did not agree with their traditional teaching.  We must remember that we can be in the same boat.  Never say that we cannot make the same mistakes as the Jews because we have done it many times.

In closing, please remember what Jesus said in the parable.  As He concludes this parable, He says:

“And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

When you hear something new, it is hard for you to simply say, “Yes”?  It does take time.  We have to be patient.  Why doesn’t he take it straightway?  Because the old is better than the new.  Whenever anything new is introduced — like a new worship format — you have the same problem; with new theology you have the same problem.  But never judge truth by your old teachings.  The Bible is the measuring stick of truth.  Study for yourself.  This is the new wine.

It is my prayer that we will become a church that will study and will grow together and, as we deal with the parables of Christ, that we will not act like the Pharisees, that we will accept the new wine and produce new fruit.  That will be glory to His name.  That’s my prayer in Jesus’ name.

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