Which comes first: the wine or the wineskin?

Ivana Brata 1

JUST LIKE the chicken and the egg, this question is an ‘origins’ problem. So we’d better start at the beginning!

“Let there be Light!” This is how Elohim God starts creation, out of nothing, using nothing, from nothing. Simply by God’s Word speaking Into Being.  Amazing things, words.  Especially when God is speaking.  At first, there is literally NO THING there. Then, God speaks.  And there it is.  We know that light comes from a source, be it fire or some very hot object; a star or suchlike.  Catching sight of a fire is an arresting moment- we stop what we are doing and pay attention. Life might be at stake, after all. Am I standing too close? Fire is the undoing of matter. The text books say there are three common states of matter- solid, liquid and gas, but fire is none of these. In a hot fire, the chemical substances are torn apart into an evanescent plasma which even wrenches previously captive electrons from their atoms before all is reassembled anew2.  We may not understand any of the chemical transformation that is taking place before our eyes, yet we are profoundly enticed by the outpouring of light and heat.

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The Genesis 1 text is making a vital claim.  The light that we read of is a figure for God and God’s doings, and this is not to be confused with the deities of old.  The sun is not a god, but merely a spectacular light source.  And though many of the ancients understood that the moon was only a heavenly reflector and not a light source, its fixed face and circular outline were still sufficiently beguiling to tempt some to attribute the qualities of a deity.  Not so, says Genesis. Natural sources of light somehow derive their luminosity from the Ultimate Light. So light is created before all the heavenly objects astronomy now teaches us about. Theology is simply understood to be the ‘study of God,’ and we certainly get theological illumination in chapter 1 of Genesis.

Genesis is the prelude to Exodus, where God speaks with spectacular effect to His people at Sinai after leading them out from Egypt.  The first set of Ten Commandments are written with God’s own finger, but then Moses has to make a new set after he breaks them.  Isn’t it awesome that God allows Moses to write the second copy of His rules for life, and from memory or dictation or whatever!  There again, perhaps I should not be so surprised.  Remember- it is God who send the plagues on the Egyptians, but it is Moses and Aaron who stand before Pharaoh speaking on God’s behalf- speaking God’s Word of Creation into Being.  “Let My people go!”  God speaks in six days in Genesis One, but it is Moses who speaks ten times before the Pharaoh. It is this command and instruction that makes the very people of God.  A captive group of not-people become the wandering nation of Israel simply through the speaking into being of the words of Moses, against extremely forceful opposition- opposition that is finally overcome through Divine partnership.  And Moses protestations of incompetence in oratory do not, finally, prevent this from being so.

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Amazing things, words. Especially when God’s followers are speaking. Surely we can’t put this sort of power into our words.  They are merely evanescent sounds briefly disturbing the arrangement of particles of air before everything goes back pretty much to how it was before. We don’t know how God actually made light and matter, or very much about how stuff and energy morphed into moons or jellyfish or fireflies or my friend Daniel. But He did indeed Speak, we believe, and then all this happened afterwards.  And Moses did as he was told- eventually discovering he had a backbone- and out of a bunch of oppressed slaves a coherent mass of people was formed which broke free of its tight orbit around the nation of Egypt and a new nation was sent spinning off into the wilderness. All through an unprecedented partnership of a man’s obedient word and God’s Word in action.  ‘Let my people come to be!’ ‘And let my people go!’  So off they went, following Moses and the pillar of cloud and fire by day and night.

Is it still a surprise to us that Proverbs makes this profound claim?

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Proverbs 18:21 ESV

In the very breath we speak we create life and death- every day- each and every day. May it be life that comes from our mouths, and not death.  We must not become blasé about this little truth. Be the ‘I’ in ‘kind’, it says on the Primary School noticeboard.  There is much more to this than ‘meets the eye’.

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WHAT GOD DID ONCE, God will do again. He may have talked about taking a break- a sabbath rest. But God is not done.  He speaks still.  Sometimes we do not hear because God’s working is silent; then again, sometimes we should be listening more attentively.  When was Jesus raised from the dead?  We do not know exactly, but the stone was surely rolled away, and then the women saw Him.  Some Roman soldiers had a bit of an idea apparently, but they got shy and didn’t want to say.  Now this much is clear. The Logos of God is alive, and He has declared victory over our death. 

The resurrection of Jesus is the most important thing to happen in history. But His appearances in new creation flesh and His Ascension is not the last act of New Creation. Simply the spectacular first fruits. And we have been told ahead of time what will happen at the End:

Sharon Tate Soberon 6

Recall all the weight of meaning that we understand in Genesis 1: God said… and it was so. Six days of creating. Now here we are in Rev 21: I AM making EVERYTHING new!!!!!!!! God’s Word of Creation must not be left behind in our imaginations in the first book of the Scripture. It is breathing all the way through history, and all this life is, without wishing to belittle it in any way, just the warm up act…

But even that is not all!

So what shall we say? [Romans 8:31] What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Paul is writing rhetorically, but I mean to fuse this with the anointing on Moses- to actually speak! I say again: What shall we say?  For there is clearly much potential for creation through our words, if we are joined to our Head Who is the Logos of God. What might God be inspiring us to pray and say?  “Let there be…”

Partnering with God, speaking in His stead, just as Moses was sent to do.

In Jesus’ Name!

For sure this includes the preaching of the gospel message by all means, including, if we must, words.  But isn’t there more to this ‘speaking into being’ than meets the eye?

IN OUR SMALL GROUP church meeting this week we were considering Mark 2, where Jesus talks about wine and wine skins.  Its easy to become over familiar with the little word pictures that Jesus uses.  We hear, and yet we so easily might not hear at all. 

sersaldelatierra 7

In Matthew’s version, it goes like this.  ‘Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”  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.  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.  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.”’

If Jesus were to be telling this story today, would he stick with wineskins or try to switch to barrels and bottles?  I think that the power of the word picture is very much in the first century technology. The wineskin is an active and organic part of the process.  Bottles aren’t really part of the fermentation process, but the barrels that the wine began in do play their part, causing transformation of the flavour through reactions with the wood, and so on. But the barrels can be reused, and indeed the vintner might insist on so doing. The metaphor doesn’t hold.  So what is at stake here?  In the wineskin metaphor, as Jesus deploys it, the corporate way of life of the disciples is as much at issue as the life of God in them as individuals. The shape of their new community lifestyle is formative. The habits of their life as a counter culture should manifest a paradigm shift in relationships.  What is Jesus on about?  The new life of the Spirit of God not only requires newly transformed vessels in terms of individual people- those people will also be drawn into new modes of relationships and expressions of life by God’s transforming Spirit. The Spirit of God can only be contained in the community of God- the Ekklesia of God!  A new vessel is required.  Jesus’ wineskin metaphor is also fitting because he does not disrespect the old ways of doing things. The Pharisees held a light for a time. But One greater than Moses is here now. The wine of the Pharisees was fine wine. But did you taste the Cana ’33?  Remember what they said at that wedding. “You’ve kept the best till last!”

We moved on to listen to ‘In the crushing’ by Brooke Ligertwood, which you can find to listen to if you like. Several scriptural sources of inspiration are drawn together with some extra-biblical imagery in a current style, blending them together, which makes an engaging modern liturgy. It aids us in turning over the old and the new, the text and our context, ploughing God’s revelation into our minds, and so setting us up for mental renewal and spiritual rebirth.

Here are the lyrics8:  

Verse

     IN THE CRUSHING

     In the pressing

     You are making new wine

In the soil I now surrender  

You are breaking new ground 

Pre chorus

So I yield to You and to Your careful hand

When I trust You I don’t need to understand

Chorus

Make me Your vessel

Make me an offering  

Make me whatever You want me to be

I came here with nothing but all You have given me

 Jesus bring new wine out of me

Verse Tag

You are breaking new ground

Tag

Jesus bring new wine out of me

Jesus bring new wine out of me

Cause where there is new wine

 There is new power

 There is new freedom

 The Kingdom is here

 I lay down my old flames

 To carry Your new fire today

Ending

Jesus bring new wine out of me

Jesus bring new wine out of me

.

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As well as the Wineskin passage, there are allusions to other references:

Matthew 9:14-17 ESV (seen above)

2 Timothy 2:21 NIV Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Isaiah 64:8 NIV Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

I am sure that you can discern some others.

The danger to be avoided here is that we don’t just sit back with Isaiah.  ‘I’m just wet pliable clay in God’s hands and I’ll just sit here on the wheel as we spin round and round. Who know what we will become? Its all up to God. God’s will be done!’

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But Paul’s second letter to Timothy does not leave us with that lazy luxury in our spiritual lives. Jesus’s words in Mark 2 and Matthew 9 are not just cosy comforts to console us as Christian people who have moved on from the old ‘wineskin’ of the Jewish Law. Jesus is also charging us with a perennial warning. As the Spirit comes in yet further waves, so there will be constant ‘making things New’ and so a requirement to examine the old vessels we hold God’s treasure in- that’s me, my life, my ways, and our local churches and their habits- all of these could be old wine skins.

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The patch in the garment will behave differently to the rest, and the life of God, being the vigorous and energetic life that it is, will burst out of the bonds of the old garment. This will be tragic, because the life- the wine- must be held in something.  Life is the finely tuned and regulated organisation of energy in matter- but even fire cannot long be parted from what sustains it.  The church/ekklesia of God must be continually metamorphosing in harmony with the singing of God so that the life and the structures in which the Spirit is expressed and held- however evanescently- do not split, spilling the Spirit from its skin to be lost in the air or in the ground. So Paul charges us to tend the wineskin in which the Spirit is held- to prepare the vessel made on the potter’s wheel. It is vital that the wineskin holds.

Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Mark 14:25 ESV
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So in this present season, our challenges include discerning between the features of our business and family and church lives that are inflexible and unresponsive to the new life of God, and the novel demands of the emerging normality, while holding on to the values and habits that are the fruit of tested character, as rooted in the Word of God. May His Spirit alert us in distinguishing between the two.

Philippians 1:9-10 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

Hebrews 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

(C) Stephen Thompson 2020

  1. Ivana Brata CCO 3 Jan04_LetThereBeLight_1280x800
  2. https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/23469/is-fire-plasma and https://www.plasmacoalition.org/plasma_writeups/flame.pdf
  3. CCO 3 let_there_be_light_by_wicca01_d2x4ry2-fullview
  4. CCO 3 800px Aaron’s Rod Changed into a Serpent. Bible Pictures and what they teach us. Charles Foster 1897
  5. i in kind
  6. Digital calligraphy http://www.flickr.com/photos/4thglryofgod/8603882165/ CCO 3 by Sharon Tate Soberon https://www.flickr.com/photos/4thglryofgod/
  7. Wineskins http://sersaldelatierra.blogspot.com/2017/07/el-vino-nuevo-del-reino-en-odres.html CCO3
  8. https://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/new-wine-hillsong-worship/
  9. Potter and clay. ritesh-singh-JW7J__Nfors-unsplash
  10. http://www.smilelikeyoumeanit.net/2015/03/custom-diy-iron-on-patches-for-jeans.html CCO3 image licence
  11. kriszti-babicz-hK86mVtu4pM-unsplash

Published by Stephen Thompson

Thinking inside the box is to be recommended for many reasons. I am creating this blog in May 2020 as we are encouraged to stay inside our boxes as far as possible, though we are allowed out- encouraged out, indeed- for exercise. By blogging, our thinking can also be allowed out for public exercise. Right now we need new thinking, new exercising of our mental faculties, and collective application of our thinking to the big idea of a healthy collective future. I am trialling my thinking in constructive theology, science and leadership in the light of my experience as a science teacher, theological student and as a representative of the Christian community in the county of Kent, in the UK. I welcome your partnership!

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