“Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?’  And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved’” (Matthew 9:14-17).
Perhaps you have heard sermons on “old wineskins and the new wineskins.”  I have.  I have preached some myself.  A number of years ago, going through a season of struggling health, I spent a bit of time studying the Kingdom of God and what Jesus said about it in the gospels.  During that season I meditated some on this passage.
The disciples of John had an issue with Jesus’ disciples, in that they and the Pharisees were living a sacrificial life that included fasting (a good spiritual disciple), but Jesus’ disciples were not.  For me, looking at another encounter of Jesus with the disciples of John helps bring further understanding to this passage.  It can be found in the first nineteen verses of Matthew 11, but for the sake of space I will paraphrase the encounter.
John is in prison and he is doubting.  He sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the One, or will there be another that will fulfill the prophecies of old.  Understand, it was John who declared that Jesus was Savior, even before His own disciples understood (even before Peter made His famous declaration that Jesus was the Christ when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was).  John pronounced, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  A revelation of who Jesus was and what was His mission could not be any more clear.  And yet, from a prison cell, John doubted.
I am sure John’s circumstances came into play.  Things had not turn out the way he expected.  His successful preaching ministry landed him in prison.  I could not even imagine what John was going through.  I have questioned God over far less.
In response to this question related through John’s disciples, Jesus proclaimed the great works of healing and miracles that were accomplished through His ministry, and ends with this simple statement, “Blessed are those who are not offended because of Me.”  Offended?  Was John offended?
Now, I cannot go into John’s head, but when I contrast the ministries of John and Jesus, they were very different.  In fact, in Matthew 11, Jesus goes on to speak to the crowd about the contrast, observing how John came with a message of repentance and sacrificial living, but Jesus came eating and drinking with sinners.  Both ministries were rejected by many of the religious of the day.  Both were seen as extreme, but both ministries were of God.
Going back to our passage on fasting and wineskins.  There were many reasons for fasting in the Old Testament Scriptures.  Repentance.  Guidance.  Provision.  These name just a few.  Jesus said that the while the bridegroom was present, the disciples would not fast, but when He would be gone, they would fast.
I believe that all those reasons for fasting I mentioned (and others), are all good reasons and Biblical, but I also believe that Jesus was describing a new reason for fasting, which would also become the reason for His disciples to eventually fast.  Desire.
When I am apart from my wife, even after 16 years of marriage, for any significant period of time, I miss her and long for her.  If I travel to another country, I look forward to speaking with her.  I remember more specifically in the days we were engaged to be married, when we were separated because of our ministry obligations to different ministries for nearly four months.  When you ache for someone, you feel what has been described as butterflies in your stomach, and you can lose your appetite.  You lose your hunger because of desire.  I believe that is what Jesus was describing.  This was a new reason for fasting besides the others I mentioned, and in Jesus’ terms, it will be a greater reason for the fast.
By John’s remark from prison and Jesus’ response from Matthew chapter 11, we can surmise that those differences in the styles of ministry created a tension for John.  It is in this context of tension, I believe we can set the context for the parable of old and new wineskins.  With that understanding, I must search my heart and say, “God, am I offended by You and what you are doing?  What does it mean to be part of the new wineskin, and what does that look like in my life and in this day and age?”
I am not referring to different methods that we use to run churches and ministries, but God was doing something new in the heart of discipleship and ministry.  I believe that Jesus was saying that it was not sacrificial living that would be marks of the new covenant, but complete heart transformation.  Jesus was paving the way for the Holy Spirit to come and dwell in us.  He was declaring that God wanted us to be Spirit-led and in intimacy with God, and not simply checking off our accomplishments.
So…the new wineskin is not about cutting edge methodology.  It is about being connected to what God is doing in the heart of His people today!  It is amazing how Jesus tagged many of His parables with this phrase…”He who has ears, let them hear.”
I find today, the tendency in society and in my own life to be very busy.  It takes intentionality to set aside time with God.  Not just token moments, but to press into God and be in His presence without limitations.  To slow down enough to be able to spend 3-4 hours in prayer if that is what it takes!
As a new year has started, I want in 2016 to be more connected and in intimacy with God.  I want to live more cutting edge.  I want to be part of what God is doing today, and I want to live by more faith than I have in the past.  I know these are not easy requests, and will require changes in my lifestyle.  But when confronted with the options, Jesus is all that can fill and sustain me.