A common phrase or term on the mission field was “old bottles and new bottles” and “old wine and new wine” (Luke 5:37-39). But it seems that most Christians I meet here are unfamiliar with these terms. They come directly from Jesus and really contain some amazing, important truths. The goal for each believer is to be a “new bottle” who can take the “new wine”. I’ll bet you’ve never heard that taught in church. But it’s in three of the four Gospels.
Jesus was responding to a jibe from the Pharisees. They said to Jesus “Why do John the Baptist’s disciples often fast but yours don’t?” (Luke 5:33) This was another of their less-than-veiled criticism. But the Lord answered them “Can the children of the bride chamber fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days come when the bridegroom shall be taken away. Then shall they fast in those days.” (Luke 5:34 & 35) While Jesus was with them, His disciples didn’t need to fast because the Lord was right there. But Jesus was saying that when He was gone to be with the Father, His disciples would fast in those days.
Then He went on to say a very interesting, deep analogy or parable which might have been a lot easier for them to understand back then than it is for us now. He said, “No man puts new wine into old bottles or the new wine will break the bottles and be spilled and the bottles will perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles and both are preserved.” (Luke 5:37-39) What in the world is that talking about? I can tell you, it’s pretty important and I’ll bet your church is not telling you about it.
I lived in Vienna, Austria for 6 years as a missionary to eastern Europe when it was still under Communism. And wine making in Vienna is like beer in Germany: it’s just happening everywhere and it’s part of life. Here’s something I learned. Wine, when it’s first put into kegs, expands. And some of the wine with the most “kick” to it is wine that’s only around 3 months old. But the word used there is “bottles” so that throws us modern people. When we hear “bottles”, we think of glass. But the actually meaning of “bottles” is wine skins, the leather vessels into which wine was put in the times of Jesus.
Here’s what happens. When they press the grapes and put the results into wine skins, as the weeks go by the wine begins to expand inside the wineskins. If the “bottle”, the wine skin is relatively new, then the leather is still supple and it can expand with the wine and not break. But if the “bottle” (the wine skin) is “old”, then the leather is dry and cracks easily. Then the “new wine” will break the “old bottles”. So Jesus taught that new wine must be put into new bottles and both will be preserved. If you still don’t get it, no problem. Very many people don’t.
What Jesus taught was “new wine”. He didn’t spend much time going back to the traditions and shibboleths of the Pharisees and traditionalist. He taught the pure and true Word of God, which even included some “new” things, like when He healed on the Sabbath or forgave men their sins or His many parables. His disciples were, for the most part “new bottles”. They were strong believers but they weren’t polluted by the “old wine” that had so perverted the religious teachings of those days.
But the Pharisees and most of the religious leaders were “old bottles” and Jesus’ “new wine” almost continually “broke their bottles”. He didn’t show respect to the many traditions of the day, He fellowshipped with publicans, sinners and harlots, His whole manner and way was completely different from the religious leaders of the time. “But the common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37). Because many of them were dissatisfied with the “old wine” that was coming from the oppressive, rigid religious establishment back then.
But none of this could still happen today, could it? There couldn’t be anything like “new wine” today, could there? God stopped speaking over 2000 years ago, didn’t He? Could there be any “old bottles” today? Jesus told His disciples, on the night before He was arrested and crucified, “I have many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of Truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12 & 13)
More truth after Jesus? “No way!” you say. Then check out Acts chapter 10. The truth revealed to the Apostle Peter was so radical and so very nearly “broke his bottle” that he just barely was able to take it. But he did and he went on to obey what God showed him. That’s why Christianity has included non-Jews for the last 2000 years. The truth revealed in Acts 10 was so radical and potent that it very nearly broke the bottles of even the early Christians at that time. In Acts 11, the whole chapter is about Peter trying to explain it all to the brethren back in Jerusalem. The thing about the Gentiles being filled with the Holy Ghost, like what had happened in Acts 10, seriously broke their bottles.
God said one time, “My ways are not your ways and My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isiah 58:10 & 11). Often, if God really shows you something personally, it can sometimes at least be pretty much “new wine” and even hard to take. But if you’re a new bottle, you can take the new wine and you receive and obey what the Lord has given, like Peter did. Then, like a real wine skin, you’ll keep expanding and contracting and you’ll stay supple and fresh as you continue to receive and pour out, expand and contract.
But more often what happens is that folks become “old bottles”. They stop receiving and they don’t pour out; they just keep their wine which gets old and they become like old, brittle leather wine skins. Jesus even said, “No man, having drunk old wine, immediately desires the new, for he says, ‘the old is better’’” (Luke 5:39). If anyone tries to put new wine into them, it just “breaks their bottle”. Have you ever tried to put new wine into old bottles? Often they say “the old is better”, just like Jesus said would happen 2000 years ago.
But if you can take the new wine, God can continue to lead and guide you with really fresh new inspirations and leadings straight from Him. It can be tough at times because new wine is often pretty strong. But it’s worth it. I hope you’re a new bottle and can take the new wine. It’s the only way to go with Him and His will, the progress and path up the mountain of His will that He wants each of us to take.
“Therefore every scribe who is instructed unto the Kingdom of God is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things both old and new.” (Matthew 13:52)