New Wine Into New Wineskins
By Timothy Lopez
Key Verse 2:17
“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Last week’s passage showed us the wonderful healings Jesus performed through faith. Jesus had decided to dedicate himself to preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. He had given himself to teaching the Bible to the crowds. And he had put aside the practice of mass healing which he had initially performed on the crowds who came to him. Jesus no longer healed at random. Instead he was now teaching them the word of God. He hoped that the word of God would touch their hearts. He hoped that the word of God they hear would take root in their hearts. He hoped that the word of God would awaken their souls, to put their faith Him. It was exactly this kind of faith— awakened from hearing the word of God— which brought a leprous man to Jesus for healing. (1:40) It was also this same faith that made four men carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. (2:5) These are amazing stories of faith— faith born through Jesus’ Bible teaching. It was for this reason that Jesus taught the Bible to the crowds. He wanted them to have faith and to believe and then to come to him in faith. This is also the kind of faith Jesus wants us to have. When we hear the word of God, we must believe it and accept it and then come to Jesus with faith— asking for his blessing.
Medical sciences have progressed over the centuries. Diseases once labeled as dangerous and life-threatening have come under control. In spite of this, people feel vulnerable and helpless with all the diseases around. And therefore, interest in supernatural healings has been a kind of an alternative to medical science. People rush to be healed by those who claim to have the power to heal, using the name of Jesus. And so, some clever people have made this type of healing their full-time business. They take advantage of the sufferings of people desperate either for a visible sign to hold on to, or for relief from their suffering. Their healing stage is designed to awe and to inspire weak willed people to give their money to keep the show alive— claiming its all in Jesus’ name! But Jesus didn’t make healing a business, nor did he take advantage of people’s suffering, nor did Jesus use his charisma to gain popularity. Jesus was so unlike today’s healers. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the people— something that the magic healers wouldn’t do, not even for money. Jesus determined to teach the word of God in order to plant faith in people’s hearts. He knew that only faith can bring them the best kind of healing— the healing of their wounded hearts and shriveled souls. Praise God that Jesus’ ministry was not a multi-million dollar healing show, but a ministry of compassionate Bible teaching to save men’s souls from sin. It’s what he had come to do.
In today’s passage, Jesus performs a healing of a different kind. He performs a healing of the heart— the heart of one of the most selfish and hated people of his time. The man’s name was Levi. Outwardly Levi looked healthy and strong, a model of worldly success. He appeared as one who had it made and had it all. But regardless of how successful and happy he may have looked, Levi was like a living dead man. His heart was empty and dry, and his soul was dying. He could hide his inner condition well with his intellectual conversations, daily visit to the local spa and with his choice of imported health foods. But he couldn’t hide or cover up who he really was on the inside from himself, and certainly not from God— for God sees everything especially the heart. On the day Jesus visited him, Levi may have looked okay. But Jesus didn’t look at him outwardly. Jesus looked on the inside of this man’s heart and soul. He did not see success and joy— fulfillment and satisfaction. He saw a wretched man, miserable and diseased with selfishness and tortured by guilt and shame for what he had become. When looked at Levi, he didn’t hate him or avoid him or condemn him. Instead, Jesus’ heart went out to him because he was yet another person consumed by his own sins. And Jesus had compassion on him. Jesus loved him. And Jesus reached out to touch him so that he might save him from a life of sin. And here begins one of the most beautiful stories of a spiritual healing ever told.
Levi was also a leper of sorts— he was a spiritual leper. His heart and soul looked as hideous as a leper’s body looked to the eyes of other people. But Jesus who touched the leper and his sores also touched Levi and his sores. He took him into his own heart and cared for him and nursed him back to spiritual health. During the three and the half years that Levi followed Jesus, his heart healed. His heart changed from a heart of greed and indifference to a heart of a man who loved and followed Jesus as his disciple. He changed from the ruthless Levi to the Gospel writer Matthew. In this passage, the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders of the time, criticize Jesus for associating with a man like Levi. To this, Jesus tells me these life giving words: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” In this passage Jesus also tells us why he called men like Levi to follow him instead of calling educated men of religion like the Pharisees. He said to them, as he says to us all: “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins .”
Let then look more closely at these two passages in this chapter.
First, Jesus’ call to Levi: “Follow me.” (13-17) Read verse 14a. “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth.” We talked a bit about Levi, but let’s take another look at this man. He was a notorious man. His job was to squeeze taxes from people at any cost. His job had only two qualifications. A tax collector had to be cold-blooded and he also had to be conscience dead. When people didn’t have money to pay their taxes Levi would force them into slavery till their taxes were paid. And these were his own people— the very people who were suffering from Roman oppression. But Levi didn’t care! It didn’t matter what people thought of him and his job, to Levi it was a job, a means of security and a highway to wealth. Of course, Levi never intended at first to become heartless and conscience-free. But it had to happen along the way, for he was a down to earth kind of person— as pragmatic as one can be. While others resisted the advancement of Roman godless culture not wanting to betray their spiritual heritage, Levi couldn’t care less. He thought to himself: “As long as it puts bread on the table; as long as I can buy me a few comforts in life; A man has to do what a man has to do to survive in this world— no holds barred.” In that way, Levi slowly sold himself to sin and to the devil.
Levi had everything a man could ever want. He could get anything his heart desired. But in truth Levi had nothing. For example, to have a compassionate heart is a virtue of great value. But Levi had no heart. To have a soul that can reach out to other souls is a treasure. But Levi had no such soul. He buried his soul on the day he valued money over another human being’s life. Levi could count his money. But he could not count even one real friend. Levi could pretend before others that nothing bothered him. But Levi could not lie to his own heart, nor could he lie to God. When he was younger, Levi worked hard to become what he had now become. But now, Levi was trapped in a mire of selfishness and greed. He was helpless. Even if he wanted to quit, he had no power to quit living a life of sin.
But at a time when Levi could do nothing for himself, God was ready to do something for him. Read verse 14b. “‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” This man was a social criminal. But Jesus didn’t see in Levi the monster that everyone else saw. Jesus saw something in him what no one else could see. He saw a human being, trapped by his own sin, wallowing in his own miserable existence. Jesus saw the anguish of his empty heart. He saw the crying of his soul. And Jesus saw that he was in need of God’s intervention and mercy. Jesus knew that this sick man did not need to be condemned for his spiritual sickness, but rather to be nursed to health. But nursing such a man would not be easy. It would require compassion, understanding, and most of all unconditional love until the illness subsides; until his soul could embrace God— God who never intended Levi to live like this— the God who intended that Levi live a holy and godly life. How many people are like Levi, trapped behind some tax-collector’s booth, waiting to be rescued by God from their self-inflicted miseries!
Read verse 14b, “‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” Levi left everything behind, his booth, his money, his lucrative job. In other words, Levi left behind his past life and accepted Jesus’ invitation to a life in Jesus, and with Jesus. Levi understood that it was not going to be easy. He would lose a lot! His stereo set, his IPAD, the many comforts of life he had worked so hard to pamper himself. But when Levi looked at all that he had to give up, he didn’t care anymore, because he had gained the love and mercy of the Lord. So Levi left everything behind. It was his act of repentance to God. It was his way of saying: “Lord Jesus I am very sorry that I had been such terribly selfish and indifferent man. I repent of that. Lord I am sorry that I put success and money and the comforts of life ahead of you. Sorry that I did not seek you and seek to do what is good and right in your eyes. I repent of that Lord. And now I thank you for your mercy to me, and I now Lord I’m ready to follow you and do all that you want me to do.”
Levi’s repentance wasn’t just repentance. It was not just words, but a practical kind of repentance that bears fruit. Read verse 15. “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” Levi was so thankful to Jesus who forgave his sins and gave him another chance at life. He expressed his joy and thankfulness to God by opening his home to other people who needed to witness Jesus love and mercy. It’s like saying to those who were just like him: “come see and hear Jesus who rescued me from a miserable life and invited me to follow him.” In great joy, he invited them to meet Jesus who filled his empty heart with God’s love and acceptance— Jesus who revived his shriveled soul with God’s life. Levi’s actions in inviting his sinful friends were remarkable. They reflect the essence of what the Christian life is all about— what a new life in Christ should be. The new life in Christ is not burdensome. It is a joyful life lived in the grace and mercy of God. A new life in Christ is like a never ending wedding celebration.
Read verse 16. “When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” When the religious leaders saw this happy celebration, they revealed that their souls were sicker even than Levi’s. They didn’t’ understand the love of God for one lost sinner. They did not understand one sinner’s great joy in being forgiven. They didn’t understand the joy of such a festivity. They didn’t understand that Jesus had come to save people like Levi who otherwise would be lost to God. They should have been happy that Jesus had an opportunity to extend the love and grace of God to other Levis. But instead, they were critical of Jesus and of the company he was with. They said: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” It was as if they were asking: “Why is Jesus wasting time with such worthless people as these? Doesn’t he know they are hopelessly lost?” But they were wrong! These people were not worthless. They were not hopelessly lost. As long as Jesus is here; As long as the love of God is available, these people may still open their hearts to Jesus’ invitation, repent of their sins, and follow a new life in Jesus— just like Levi! These priests and religious men were really sick too. They were sick with spiritual blindness, for they did not know nor see God’s heart. They were sick with self righteousness, because they thought they were better than others.
So how did Jesus try to help them? Read verse 17: “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Jesus declared to them God’s truth— that God sent him not to condemn those who are sick with sin, but to nurse them back to health. Of course, the Bible tells us that no one is righteous, not even one— not even the Pharisees who condemned Levi and criticized Jesus who helped him. Jesus did not mean that there are some who need healing and some who don’t. He wanted the religious leaders to examine their own hearts and realize that in the eyes of God no one is righteous and all are sick with sin and in need of God’s mercy. If they acknowledge this, then they too can humbly come to Jesus for healing as well. It is why Jesus had come! It takes faith to come to Jesus for healing. But a man or woman must first realize their spiritual sickness, humble themselves, and come to Jesus for healing by faith. It is why Jesus had come! He won’t turn away anyone who comes to him by faith.
Second, Jesus encouraged them to be like new wineskins. (18-22) Look at verses 18-22. Some people asked Jesus this question: “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” In other words: “How come you and your disciples are not following the religious ceremonies prescribed for all God-fearing Jews to do?” How did Jesus answer their criticism? Read verses 19-20. “Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.’” Jesus knew these people well. Their knowledge of God was not based on the love and grace of God, but on their efforts in following customs, and traditions, rituals and ceremonies. In other words their relationship with God was centered on all the religious things they did. Because of that, they had become arrogant and proud and looked down on all who did not live up to their own standards. This time, they were judging Jesus and his disciples based on the fact that he and his disciples were not fasting. What is the point of fasting? When God prescribed fasting for the people to do, he intended that it would be a time of self reflection and prayer, a time of humility before God, and a time of self denial and of earnestly seeking God. But these people turned fasting into an opportunity to boast in their own righteousness and to look down on those who did not.
So Jesus told them: “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” Jesus explained to them that they had missed the whole point of fasting— and that they were no longer fasting for the right reasons but for all the wrong reasons. They were doing so no longer to honor God but to impress other people and to feel good about themselves. As such their fasting had become meaningless, and an insult to God who wanted them to live exemplary lives that honored and glorified God— even in the practice of fasting. Fasting and prayer always go together. Fasting prayer is for the sake of purifying the heart. Fasting is also to express one’s sorrow over one’s own sins. Fasting prayer is for the purpose of renewing one’s heart in God’s will and his calling. And when one fasts, he or she must do so with a clear prayer topic. All in all, fasting reflects a time of grief rather than a time of joy. So Jesus explained that his disciples had no reason for grief at this time, for he was with them. And as long as the Bridegroom Lord was with them, they had no reason to fast. But that the time would come when Jesus would be taken away from them and crucified for their sins and the sins of the world. Then it would be meaningful to fast and pray, for they would be grieving over their sins and over what it cost the Savior to save them from their sins.
Jesus defended his disciples. Jesus also helped those who were criticizing them to take a long hard look at their own hearts. How is it that they had become so judgmental and opposed to the truth Jesus had come to teach them! Jesus hoped that through his words, they might realize their sin, repent of it and decide to listen and learn from him. How did Jesus help them? Read verses 21-22. “No one sews a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” What is Jesus saying? He is saying that his teaching is like new wine, bubbly, fresh, explosive and revolutionary. He is saying that his teaching— like new wine— has the power to fill the heart of those who drink it with God’s grace and truth and to change them into the vessels God would have them become. He is saying that his teaching— the Gospel— like new wine, can change a person on the inside into an instrument God can use. The new wine of the Gospel is designed to fulfill its purpose in our hearts— to mold us, change us, recreate us in the image and will of God. Jesus is also saying that unless they become like new wineskins, the new wine will be wasted on them. The religious leaders were like old wineskins, already stretched to the limit. They were fixed in their thinking, unbending, unresponsive to God, stubborn in their own traditions and outdated ceremonies. When Jesus extended his love and grace to Levi, they recoiled in horror. They could not accept such a new wine teaching, because they had no room for it in their hearts. On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples were like new wineskins, ready to stretch and bend and grow and expand according to Jesus’ new wine teaching. They were humble and they had a learning mind. When Jesus accepted Levi, they did not criticize him. Rather they too accepted Levi and shared fellowship with him. They were like new wineskins, humble and teachable and ready to embrace God’s will.
Christianity is not an extension of the old Jewish religion. It is a new wine of itself. It is a Gospel with the power to change the world and bring it to its knees before God. It is a Gospel of power that works in the heart until it molds that heart into a fine instrument for the glory of God. But in order for the Gospel to work its powerful work in our hearts, we must be like new wineskins, always ready to accept the Gospel teaching with joy, and then expect it to change our hearts and lives to the will of God. That is how God grows and matures us as effective Christians in a defective world. Sometimes we become like old wineskins in our hearts and minds— in our way of thinking and the way we view things. Then we become immune to the Gospel teaching and to what God wants to do in our hearts and lives. When we find ourselves criticizing people like Levi instead of loving them and understanding them, instead of helping them and praying for them, it is time to remember that we ourselves were once as Levi, a lost child of God in need of mercy. Then we must humbly come before God, repent of our critical mind, and ask God to work his Gospel in our hearts to mold us in the heart of the healer Jesus. When we find ourselves unchanging, unbending, unresponsive to the Gospel teaching, it is time to humbly come to God and ask for his grace, for only God can change an old wineskin into a new wineskin. When we find ourselves snug in our Christian rituals and ceremonies, indifferent to the work of God around us, it is time to repent of becoming an old wineskin and ask God for mercy to be restored as a new wineskin. We Christians are the workmanship of God, not our own workmanship. We have nothing to boast in, except the grace we each found in Christ Jesus. Let us find one Levi and call him or her to “follow Jesus.” Let us also grow as new wineskins with a never-ending thirst for the new wine of the Gospel. Amen.