12 + 7 = New Wineskins

Have you ever overlooked something really obvious?  Something everyone else seemed to get, but you didn’t?  I mean it was right there in plain view, but you couldn’t see it? You know the type of situation I’m talking about don’t you?

Like finding the button for “Yes” on the debit card reader at the grocery store.

Isn’t it about time that we finally adopt a standardized button layout on those things?  You know where the button is on the machine at Safeway, but go into Albertsons and you need Tommy Lee Jones doing a hard target search of every henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in the county to find it.

Sometimes the button says, “enter”, but other times it says “accept”, or “yes”.   Occasionally it doesn’t say anything at all because it’s been rubbed off. Sometimes the words are displayed on the screen by the button you’re supposed to push, but sometimes you have to tap the screen.  Sometimes tapping the screen only works if you are using that little stick.

If you’re lucky the button is green, but sometimes it’s blue.

You stand there paralyzed, staring at the PIN pad, while a woman trapped behind you, with kids in her cart, desperate to escape the gum aisle, is clearing her throat and pointing.

You finally see it.

In the moment of clarity that inevitably precedes public humiliation you reach out really fast to press it.  Your feeble attempt to make up for all of the time you’ve just cost the people behind you backfires because in your haste your man sized finger misses and mashes down the “pay with food stamps” button.

Or maybe that’s just me.

My point is this: Whenever you overlook the obvious, it’s generally because you are looking for something else.

The New Testament is full of scenarios where the people closest to Jesus, had no idea what he was talking about.  In Mark 8, Jesus disciples clearly didn’t get it.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

Herod is a degenerate politician and the Pharisees are a corrupt religious special interest group.  Yeast is a fungal microorganism put into a bread dough mixture to make it “rise” with air pockets. Even a tiny bit of it “infects” a whole lump of dough causing it to leaven.

You’d think they would understand that Jesus was using the bread loaf as an illustration about how the evils of corrupt leaders pollute the people around them.

“They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

The disciple’s self-consciousness so distracted their thought process that they couldn’t hear what Jesus had to say.

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? …Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?”

Jesus decided to clear things up.  In doing so, he pointed out this wasn’t the first bread illustration that went over the disciple’s head.

Jesus had just performed two similar miracles where he used a little bit of food to feed a lot of people.  Twice Jesus went to a public place to teach and massive crowds turned out.  When his teaching went into mealtime Jesus fed the people by multiplying a couple of fish and bread sack lunches.

The people ate all they wanted, and in the end there was food left over, food that the disciples gathered into baskets.  It was such a great event that the disciples overlooked a detail that Jesus intended as a signal.

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied.

 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” 
They answered, “Seven.”  He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

This is where the story ends. 5,000 people left 12 baskets of leftovers and 4,000 people left 7 baskets of leftovers… and there you have it.

Jesus has made his point and no one got it.

We have a better excuse than the disciples for not understanding Jesus because we don’t live during the same time they did and we also don’t come from the same place they do.

To understand this story, you have to know that Jesus and his people lived in a segregated society: there were Jews, and then there was everybody else.  Each segment of this segregation had their own standards for living: we call them cultural norms.

The Hebrews believed in only one God and lived their lives without any separation of church and state.  Their religious laws were also their political laws.

Segregation was a part of their religion and their law.

The Hebrew religion of the first century explicitly forbade contact with anything or anyone that stood in opposition to their understanding of God and their way of life.

Hebrews didn’t eat foreign food, date foreign girls, or drive foreign chariots.  To break any of these norms made you “unclean”, a spiritual and social outcast, until you took the necessary steps to “cleanse” yourself before God and your people.

By the time of Jesus they’d been living this way for centuries and they’d developed a highly structured code of conduct that they lived by.  They believed that God met their needs, and highly regarded them because they worked hard to do life better than anybody else.

They found their righteousness in their social norms.

In the Gentile world the social norms were very cosmopolitan.  People were interested in things from outside their frame of reference and they actively explored the different possibilities available to them.

They believed in many gods and they went to the spiritual buffet table in search of answers to their problems.  They ate pork, hung out with brown girls, and listened to rap.  They didn’t pride themselves on purity, they prided themselves on how broad their culture was.

The Hebrews did their best to steer clear of “those people”: the ones doing it wrong, the one’s whose social norms demonstrated that they were almost animals.

So how does this have any bearing on Jesus, and his bread, and his bro’s, and their boat?

The people of Jesus day had nicknames for places that were used in every day lingo.  We do it too; Sin City, The Big Apple, The Bay Area, Beantown, Motown etc…  You know where these places are, even though their names don’t show up on a map.

The Hebrews lived on the west side of the Sea of Galilee that their ancestors had divided among Jacob’s twelve sons.  They referred to their homeland as “The Land of the Twelve”.

When Jesus fed five thousand people guess where he was?  In “The Land of the Twelve.”  There were 12 baskets were left over.

The Hebrews didn’t just wander into their land, they had to drive out the people already living there.  There were seven distinct tribes of people who lived there and the Israelites pushed them into in an area on the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee.   The Israelites referred to that place as the “Land of the Seven”.

Guess where Jesus was when he fed the four thousand people and had seven baskets left over?

Jesus performed the same miracle in two different places because he was ministering to two very different kinds of people.

Now this begs the significant question, “What was the Jewish Jesus doing in the unclean ‘Land of the Seven’, and why did he take his disciples with him?”

He was doing the same thing he did back in the “Land of the Twelve”: he was teaching, healing, and feeding people.

Jesus took his message from where he belonged, to where he was needed.

He was saying that the good news of the kingdom of God was for everybody. He didn’t come just for the people who were trying hard to get it right, he came for all of us.

And he was confronting everybody’s social norms in the process.

This was the return trip from “The Land of the Seven”.  Four chapters earlier, while standing in the  “Land of the Twelve”, Jesus told his disciples, “Lets get in a boat and go over to the other side. 

So began an “Apocalypse Now” type boat ride into the heart of darkness.

As Jesus slept in the boat a violent storm rose.  The disciples lost it, but Jesus calmed the storm.  When they stepped out of the boat into the “Land of the Seven” a demon possessed man confronted them.  Jesus cast out the demons.

He had crossed time and space to come to earth, he wasn’t going to let a storm and a demon stand in his way.  Jesus demonstrated his mastery over the natural and supernatural.

When Jesus says to His disciples “Do you still not understand?” he was confronting them for overlooking that his signs and miracles have a point.  “If you had been paying attention to “ the leftovers”, you would have seen that we are taking my good news into all the world.”

The disciples were interested in seeing what they wanted to see, believing what they wanted to believe, and behaving how they wanted to behave.

2000 years later we are still very much the same aren’t we?  We depend on our standards and our norms to illustrate that we are righteous while others are doing it all wrong.  The Bible makes it clear that this is actually self-righteousness and Paul points out that self-righteousness is no righteousness at all.

That’s why we need Jesus.  Our righteousness comes only through him.

When we get hung up on celebrating our high standards and belief systems we are actually denying that we are not righteous.  We begin acting like we’ve figured out the special formula that God blesses, and we pride ourselves on being the people who are doing it right as if that earns us God’s favor.

Don’t miss that Jesus left behind the people who were “doing it right” and got into a boat and sailed across a raging sea to offer his favor to the people who were “doing it all wrong”.

The Hebrew people made the mistake of believing that their “core values”, “high standards”, and “social norms” were their righteousness but they aren’t.

Our social norms aren’t our righteousness; they are simply the delivery systems of our righteousness.

Imagine we are at a birthday party and it’s time to have the cake and blow out the candles.  Here are your options for playing happy birthday, you can choose to put a record on the Victrola, or live-stream it from a smart phone.  Which one do you choose?

Which is the most moral choice?

Neither one is because there’s nothing immoral about either of the music delivery systems.  The most important thing is playing the song.  We make our choice on the delivery system based on which piece of equipment we are the most experienced and comfortable with.

There are so many ways to get the song Happy Birthday performed, that it’s actually ridiculous to waste any time arguing about the “right way to do it”.

The moral issue isn’t the delivery system; it’s the message that is being sent.  Social norms aren’t a moral issue, the message that they are sending is.

There are people who make demands about how a church should operate.  They want to dictate the delivery system based on their preferences.

This is a world filled with hurting broken and dying people who need to be reached with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ and church leaders need to be courageous enough to NOT care if someone who claims to follow Jesus has an issue with hair, or jeans, or music because they are simply the delivery system for the most powerful message in the world.

Our righteousness isn’t found in a building, or service times, or how communion is served, it’s found in our submission to the person of Jesus Christ.

That’s our new cultural norm.

We have to be willing to let everything else change in submission to him.  We have to be able to let go of everything that “has worked” and get into the boat he’s pushing away from the shore.

This is how we are changed as we follow Jesus.  Churches don’t grow because of a strategy or business model, they grow because Jesus is changing people’s lives.

Nothing grows without changing.

The church structures and systems aren’t a demonstration of righteousness, they are the delivery systems for the person of Jesus and Christians must be prepared for those things to change along with the size and shape of a church because if we’ve seen anything over the past 2000 years it’s this:

Jesus only pours new wine into new wineskins.

In Matthew Chapter 9, religious people start complaining that Jesus and his disciples aren’t following the old way of doing things.  They are upset that Jesus’ disciples don’t fast the way other “pious” people do.

Jesus’ response is fascinating.  He asks why anyone should be fasting while they are in his presence.  He says that now is the time for his disciples to live because he’s here doing God’s work.  Then he says something that indicates that he’s pretty sure that they don’t understand.

“  Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins.  If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” -Matthew 9:17

When Jesus pours out his life changing spirit in new ways, he doesn’t do it into an “old bag” that is brittle and dried because he isn’t interested in breaking old bags and wasting his wine.

2,000 years ago Jesus crossed a lake in pursuit of new wineskins for his new wine, and he did so at the risk of losing self-righteous people who believed that their preferences and standards were being offended.

The people who walked away from Jesus were interested in seeing what they wanted to see, believing what they wanted to believe, and behaving how they wanted to behave.  They weren’t interested in Jesus transforming them- they were interested in their own self-righteousness.

The faithful, the ones who followed him then, led us to where we are today.  We have the responsibility to continue the search for new wineskins; the beautiful part is that in the search Jesus keeps us fresh, regardless of our age, as he constantly adds new wine to our skins.

It’s simple.

It’s refreshing.

It’s obvious.

We just overlook it when we look at something else.

6 Responses to “12 + 7 = New Wineskins”

  1. Sharon O September 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Simple, refreshing, obvious and so challenging, I love this teaching and I especially love the words you wrote, nothing grows without changing. Isn’t that the hardest of all?
    It takes effort and risk to change from what we are familiar with and have become comfortable in doing. Thank you for the challenge to move forward and perhaps in a new direction.

    • Jon September 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

      Effort and risk… those are the things that are hardest to do right? I’m hoping to master them someday!

  2. Josh H September 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Awesome stuff and really challenging. Letting go of everything that has worked for us is so tough. But if we are really in submission to Christ, we are submitting to his will, not our own. Which can be so tough as well…

    • Jon September 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

      I find that I’d rather slip for a while before letting go… It never really works out for me. Hope you’re doing well Josh!

  3. Joe September 7, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    It seems like something is on your mind….

  4. Jon September 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    Letting go… It’s surprisingly hard to do, even though it’s always on my mind.

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