Getting Ready for Renewal

Luke 5:36-39

July 31, 2005 | Brian Bill

Some homeowners woke up to find that they had a skunk in their basement.  They contacted an animal control officer who told them to open their basement door and make a trail of bread crumbs from the cellar to the garden.  A few hours later the officer got another call from the harried homeowners: “We did what you said and now we have two skunks in the cellar.”

Have you ever felt like your problems only got bigger when you tried to solve them?  Does the advice you receive often backfire?   Does lasting change seem elusive?  Last week we learned that we have more than we think when we offer the little that we have.  God loves to fill us up when we first admit how empty we are without Him.  He desires to use empty jars of clay to bring more empty jars to Him because He wants to use us in meaningful service.  It was very moving to watch as almost everyone stood at the end of both services to indicate they are ready to serve like never before.

This morning we’re going to see that until we are changed from the inside out we will never experience all that God has in store for us.  Next week we will wrap up this brief series called, “Saved to Serve” as we focus on our need to be equipped in order to make an impact.  Please turn in your Bible to Luke 5 where we will first set the context before jumping into our text.  

Jesus calls Levi to follow Him (27-32).  A despised tax collector is added to the traveling team of disciples.  After leaving everything behind, Levi throws a big party for Jesus and invites a bunch of sinners to supper.  In that culture to eat and drink with someone was to say, “I accept you and welcome you.”  This really bothers the Pharisees and they begin to complain to the disciples.  Jesus puts them in their place by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus is questioned (33-35).  The religious leaders now come after Jesus by implying that His disciples are less spiritual than their followers, and even the disciples of John, because they do not spend time fasting.  While the Old Testament teaches about fasting, the only requirement is to fast once a year.  The Pharisees followed and enforced twice a week fasting (see Luke 18:12).  They also fasted during times of mourning.  While they liked to point to their piety, most people knew that they did these activities just to impress others.  We see this in Matthew 6:16: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.” Fasting is an important spiritual discipline but should never be forced upon someone or done to draw attention to yourself.

Jesus answers by pointing to the custom of the marriage feast, and then tells two parables (which will be our focus today).  Marriage celebrations in that time lasted a week and were filled with rejoicing.  It would be unthinkable for the bridegroom’s friends to be in mourning (unless they didn’t like the bride!).  As bridegroom, Jesus points out that his disciples are like the guys who are standing up in a wedding.  Why should they fast when it’s time to celebrate?  There’s a time coming, Jesus says, “…when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” Levi did what everyone should be doing – following Jesus and feasting with Him.  Don’t miss the point that legalism always leads to a remorseful religion.  Warren Wiersbe suggests that Jesus is really saying, “I came to make life a wedding feast, not a funeral.  If you know the Bridegroom, then you can share His joy.”

Jesus did not come to patch up people but to redeem a batch of new creations.

Jesus is contrasting the rules that the religious leaders followed with the new life that He offered.  This life looks different on the outside because it’s radically different on the inside.  We could say it this way: Jesus did not come to patch up people but to redeem a batch of new creations.

We Need a New Self

Let’s read the first parable found in verse 36: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one.  If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.”  It was very common in that culture because of pervasive poverty, to patch clothes that were wearing out.  I can remember when I was younger that my mom used to “darn” socks when they got holes in them.  Now people just throw away socks when they wear out and buy new ones.  As Jesus often did, he used ordinary images that were familiar to everyone in order to teach spiritual truth.  Perhaps he even held up a new garment and an old garment while He was teaching.

Eugene Peterson offers a helpful paraphrase: “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match.”  It doesn’t make sense to take a pair of scissors to a silk scarf just so you can cover over a hole in your overalls.  That only ruins the good garment and provides a patch that doesn’t match the old one, leaving both the old and the new useless.  Not only that, when the old garment is washed, the new patch will shrink and tear away from the old, making it worse than it was before.  The Pharisees wanted Jesus to conform to their religious way of thinking and to practice their traditions but Jesus made it clear that this would never work because you can’t take from what is new and stick it on what is old.  The patch that was supposed to solve the problem would create an even bigger problem.  Jesus wasn’t interested in reviving their old religion by patching up people; He was interested in hatching something completely new.  

The Bible often uses garments to symbolize character and conduct.  Paul develops this idea in Colossians 3:12, when he says“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  Isaiah refers to righteousness as a robe that we are to wear (Isaiah 61:10).  Unfortunately, many people have a patchwork approach to Christianity – a little here and a little there.  But it doesn’t work that way.  We can’t just “add” Jesus to what we already have because we must get a brand new garment.  Jesus is not an “add on.”  He is everything.  We need to trade in our unrighteous rags for His robe of righteousness.  This is stated best in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Sometimes we think we have to clean ourselves up on our own.  Some of you are putting on patches to cover up some holes as you try to stitch together your own righteousness.  This doesn’t work, does it?  That reminds me of the minister who decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his sermon and so he placed four worms in four separate containers.  The first worm was put into a glass of alcohol.  The second one was put into a container of cigarette smoke.  The third worm was put into a bowl of chocolate syrup and last one was put into a bucket of good clean soil.  

At the conclusion of the sermon, the pastor reported the following results:  The first worm in the alcohol – Dead.  The worm in the cigarette smoke – Expired.  The one swimming in chocolate syrup – Dead, though with a smile on his face.  Not surprisingly, the fourth worm in the dirt was alive and well.  So the preacher asked the congregation: “What can we learn from this demonstration?”  An older church member in the back raised her hand and said, “As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won’t have worms!”

Are you trying to patch up your life?  Maybe you’ve been trying to quit drinking or smoking or maybe you’re even refraining from chocolate (that’s going a bit far).   Perhaps you’re working at adding the patch of church attendance.  Or maybe you have the “good works” patch sewn on somewhere.  Some of you are trying to be a “better person,” whatever that means.  Friend, let me level with you.  This will never work.  You might get a patch to stick for awhile but it will eventually pull away in the ebb and flow of life and its problems.  And when it rips off it leaves an even bigger hole.  So what do you do?  Find some more patches?  No.  It’s time to trade in your rags for the robe of righteousness.  A patch, no matter how good it looks, can never match the standards of God’s perfection because the old and the new do not mix.  Isaiah 64:6 says it strongly: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” 

At Kiwanis this week I heard a presentation from a government agency that is trying to help people stay on the straight and narrow.  Towards the end of the talk one of the presenters lamented that what they do doesn’t really help many people.  In fact, if they are able to help one or two out of several hundred they are working with, that’s a lot.  He seemed bummed by this.  It struck me that the reason more people are not helped is because what is offered is just a patch that won’t last on its own.  

Here’s some good news.  You don’t have to patch up your life before you decide to become a Christian.  Come to Christ by throwing away all those things you were trusting in and let Him make you into someone you have never been before.  You need an extreme makeover, from the inside out.  One day a religious man came to Jesus, wanting to know how he could patch up his life.  Jesus told him that he didn’t need more religious routine or pietistic practices; he needed to be reborn.  Listen to the words of Jesus in John 3:3: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  Have you been robed with the righteousness of Christ?  [Hold up white robe].  Jesus did not come to patch up people but to redeem a batch of new creations.  2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

We Need New Structures

The first parable teaches that we need a brand new self.  The second illustration from the Master Teacher makes that same point and also adds that we need new structures.  Follow along as I read Luke 5:37-38: “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.” To understand this parable like those in the first century would have, we need to go back in time.  Wine was made by walking on grapes in a wine press.  The juice flowed through a channel into a lower vessel, where it was strained and eventually poured into a wineskin.

I had a difficult time finding a picture of a wineskin that was used in Bible times so I sent out an email to a bunch of people asking for some help.  I received a number of replies with attachments of different pictures.  This is probably the most common one, shaped like a tear and popularized by the Spaniards.  One person who emailed: “Years ago we would take these with us when we went skiing and carry them over our shoulder – NOT NOW!”  Someone else replied: “When my children were little, I probably could have helped you out…they had their hides tanned quite often!”

The main point Jesus is making is that the leaders had become too rigid in their religion.  They were no longer able to accept new approaches or structures and didn’t know what to do with the new life Jesus was offering.

Here are some questions that we need to wrestle with as a church.

  • Are we inflexible and rigid, believing things can only be done one way, which is my way?
  • Are we trying to contain God’s work in old and brittle containers?
  • Is God’s Spirit restricted by our structures and systems?
  • Are our policies pliable or are they set in stone?

We must be willing to change!  What worked 30 years ago doesn’t necessarily work today.  We need to distill the essence of what we are called to do as a church, which is to live out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Our model is found in Acts 2:42-47, where we are challenged to make an IMPACT through Instruction, Ministry, Prayer, Adoration, Caring, and Telling others the gospel.  The what is very clear and must never be changed; the how we do what we do must remain flexible.  

In his book called, “Look Back, Leap Forward,” Gary MacIntosh offers these insights:

  • The past is for remembering, not reliving
  • When you’re not sure where you’re going, look to where you’ve been
  • Involve new people.  If we always think what we’ve always thought, we’ll always get what we’ve already got
  • If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else
  • Look back to find your values; look forward to find your methods

Let’s read verse 39: “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”  The Pharisees were basically saying the old is good enough.  It’s easier to fall back to what is familiar and to look on the new work of the Spirit with suspicion.  Many of us default to legalism and prefer patches to wholesale changes.  There’s a chronic disease that has infected many Christians.  Do you know what it is?  It’s called hardening of the categories.  Religious people by nature prefer the old ways because they’re safe and predictable.  Friends, Jesus is not safe, nor is He predictable.  

Our family has been listening to the Chronicles of Narnia when we go on trips in the car.  I love that line from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which by the way, is coming to theaters in December, when Lucy asks her friend a question about Aslan, who represents Christ: “Is Aslan safe?”  To which the friend replies, “Safe?  No, he’s not safe…but he is good.”  Jesus was radical and certainly not safe.  He associated with the wrong people and refused to conform to the joyless legalism of those around Him.  As those who claim to follow Him, filled with the wine of the Sprit, and robed in His righteousness, how can we do less?

We need to be willing to use new wineskins when the wine of God’s Spirit pours out upon this place.  Let’s not say those famous last words of many dying churches: But we’ve never done it that way before.  Another phrase that we need to avoid is this: We tried that before and it didn’t work.  Remember the words of Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  That’s a new wineskin for the new wine of the Spirit.  In Revelation 21:5 Jesus declares: “I am making everything new!”

Ultimately it’s not about technology and methodology or even systems and structures.  It’s about allowing the fresh wine of the Holy Spirit to fill us up.  I like what Jim Cymbala says in his book, “Fresh Power.”  “It’s time to get hold of the Holy Spirit – or rather to let Him get hold of us…Revival comes when people get dissatisfied with what is and yearn deeply for what could be.”  Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Tim Grisson define revival as what happens when God’s people, whether individually or corporately, are restored to a right relationship with Him: “In times of personal or corporate revival, God’s people experience His presence and power in ways previously missing from their lives and to degrees never thought possible.  A revived church is the greatest means of making God’s redemptive plan known throughout the world…He wants to fill your heart with himself; He wants to set you free from every unholy passion; He wants you to drink deeply of the joys found in His presence; He wants your service for Him to be the overflow of genuine love and authentic life…He wants you and His entire church to be revived.”

At the beginning of his book Cymbala quotes from D.L. Moody, who had become increasingly concerned about the spiritual decline in so many churches over a hundred years ago.  As a result he called a special convocation and opened it with these words.

There has been much inquiry of late on the Holy Spirit.  In this and other lands, thousands of persons have been giving attention to the study of this grand theme.  I hope it will lead us all to a greater manifestation of His power upon the whole church of God.  How much we have dishonored Him in the past!  How ignorant of His grace and love and presence we have been!  Let others reject, if they will, at their own peril, this imperishable truth.  I believe, and am growing more and more into this belief, that divine, miraculous, creative power resides in the Holy Spirit…If we want that power to quicken our friends who are dead in sin, we must look to God…If we look to the Spirit of God and expect it to come from Him and Him alone, then we shall honor the Spirit, and the Spirit will do His work.  I cannot help but believe there are many Christians who want to be more efficient in the Lord’s service.  It is from the Holy Spirit that we may expect this power.

Let’s be done with patch work religion and allow the fresh wine of the Holy Spirit to flow through us

Do you have any skunks running around in the cellar of your soul?  Let’s be done with patch work religion and allow the fresh wine of the Holy Spirit to flow through us.  We need a new self and we need new structures.  Jesus did not come to patch up people but to redeem a batch of new creations.  Let me suggest three action steps to focus on this summer as we prepare for the fall.

  1. Surrender completely to God.
  2. Serve in a ministry that is a perfect fit for you.
  3. Settle on a small group.

Let’s pray.  Lord, fill us up with the new wine of your Spirit.  Give us the faith to be flexible as we become vessels for you.  We confess the sin of stubbornness and inflexibility.  We beg of you to move in our midst in new ways so that we can grow in the flow of your grace.  Break us out of our lethargic legalism as you transform our traditions and change us from the inside out.  Forgive us for settling for patches when you want to begin a brand new work within us, so that by your Spirit you will work through us for your glory and for our good.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?