We’ve been hearing a lot in recent times about the ‘new wineskin’ that the Lord wants to give His Church. The new wineskin is often interpreted to be a metaphor for the reforming of our current models and structures of church, or different style church services. It’s also been interpreted as new ways of thinking, a fresh understanding of the Kingdom in our present time, or more relevant expressions of our Christianity, among other things. Of course it’s hugely important to look and the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the things we are doing, and I believe these things are part of the application of this scripture. But there is something more fundamental to understanding the new wineskin, and it’s to do with what is behind the externals and expressions.
The phrase comes from a passage where Jesus responds to the followers of John the Baptist, who asked him why His own disciples were not fasting.
To understand what Jesus perhaps meant when he spoke of the new wineskin, we need to read the whole passage in context. In future, I’ll also write something more in depth into what I believe the new outpouring of wine is that will fill the new wineskin. Scripture holds much treasure to be searched out!
The synoptic gospels all record this historical account, with mostly the same wording, with the exception of Matthew who adds in a slightly different, yet noteworthy, ending to the passage. For this reason, I have quoted his version:
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” – Matthew 9:16-17 (also see Mark 2:21-22 and Luke 5:36-39)
LONGING FOR THE BRIDEGROOM
This is the first reference to the followers of Jesus being ‘friends of the Bridegroom’ and by doing so, Jesus was also referring to Himself for the first time as the Bridegroom. The reason he gave why his disciples were not fasting was because He was still with them. The fascinating thing to me here is that he said, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
I wonder what it must have been like for the disciples when Jesus did leave them, and for them to have experienced the longing in their hearts to be reunited with Him. They had walked with Him, listened to Him, been in His presence, and their hearts had been alive with a burning from being with Him.
“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” – Lk 24:32
So this type of fast, a type of fast that had not been known up to this point, appears to be a key to pursuing this deep intimacy with Jesus. The mourning and deep longing to be with Him again brings the Bridegroom revelation back to us. We remember the previous encounters with Him, His affection towards us, His radiance and love, and fasting for this purpose is what tenderises our hearts in a way like nothing else. Fasting opens us to a greater capacity of encountering His heart as Bridegroom King. We don’t earn this intimacy through fasting, but rather this is an outcome and reward of this pursuit.
THE GARMENT AND THE WINESKIN
The unshrunk cloth on the old garment, and the new wine being poured into the old wineskin, are two ways of saying the same thing. The vessel that holds the new (and I don’t necessarily mean church structures) has to be in harmony with the nature of what is being poured into it. Sometimes we want to patch the old ‘garment’ to make things better, but I believe it’s the people that need to be transformed if the structures and expressions are to be reformed.
As with many, I do believe the Lord wants to bring change into structures and expressions, but at the heart of this there has to be an internal change in the way we carry our hearts before the Lord. The new expressions must have something more fundamental at the heart of all this – and it’s linked to fasting before a Bridegroom with a lovesick heart. There is a ‘whole’ work, and it’s related to both the wine and the wineskins – verse 17 says that ‘the new wine is poured into new wineskins, so both are preserved.’ Changing external structures without having an internal revelation of Jesus as the One with a burning heart, is putting the cart before the horse.
TRANSFORMATION AND REFORMATION
So if indeed a great spiritual awakening and reformation is coming (which I believe it is), and our systems and structures will be shaken to the core, we have to have ourselves rooted in the revelation of Jesus as the Bridegroom. We also have to yearn and pursue Him, putting action to our words, and let reformation flow out of longing for Him.
The pursuit of this God of tender desire for His Beloved, and His burning affection towards the human heart, will change the way we carry ourselves before Him. Change can then come to our structures and formats, to our ministries and movements, and to our spheres and assemblies. The link to true and lasting reformation is the internal environment we cultivate with Him, and all change to the externals must be motivated by our longing for Him.
THE OLD AND THE NEW
We continue to fast at appointed times, at times of crisis, for the purpose of preventing calamity (or to prepare for it), and also to deal with our unbelief (Mk 9:28-29 KJV). But this type of fasting, the bridegroom fast, is about our hearts groaning and growing so that the fire of His love will touch us again. Our great reward is that we would yearn for Him and encounter His burning heart.
The old way of relating to God (along with the former reasons we fasted), will come into a new wineskin. But along with the old, is the new type of fast which is to encounter the Bridegroom heart of Jesus.
As a People rise up who are willing, humble, obedient, and those tenderised in the process of seeking Him in prayer and fasting, we will see the momentum of the coming move where His new wine will be poured out into a vessel that is ready. A submitted and willing People will hold such wine, and the Great Outpouring that many have prayed for will be seen in our generation. It all starts with deep hunger and longing for Jesus, and both an individual and corporate response!
Thanks for reading.