Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins." Mark 2:19-22
These are times when church structure is coming under much scrutiny, and rightly so. Even though a great majority of Christians are content with their present organizational structures, most would be astonished with the number of people leaving these worldwide. At the same time, some North Americans are hearing of and witnessing the revivals that are breaking out in many of the poorer countries of the world. These are giving us 20th century examples of first Century church life. As we rediscover the essential elements of these phenomena, we hope to apply them today in our culture. Then we can have the possibility of a great return to the power, the joy, the love, the selflessness and togetherness that the first disciples of Jesus experienced.
New Testament patterns and teachings are important to our understanding of living in the New Covenant, but even more fundamental is the need for New Testament people. In this passage, Jesus was not necessarily speaking directly to church organizational structures, although these can obviously hinder or facilitate the spread of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The topic of discussion in this passage was actually the level of dedication in Jesus' disciples verses those of John. Then Jesus began intimating of how certain coming events would greatly adjust their inner-heart conditions.
Many instances in the four gospels relate to the pride and ambition of some of the 12 apostles. Several disputed over who would be in charge of the affairs of the impending kingdom. The thought of world domination has been obviously an appealing one to more than of few men in history. To this Jesus responded rather harshly, but He knew very well that this rebuke would not immediately change them. There were pressures that they were to face in the days ahead that would complete the preparation of what He desired to use as a wineskin. This wineskin would soon contain the most powerful outpouring of Life that the world had ever known!
The Bridegroom would soon be taken from them, and none of us could possibly imagine the level of grief, disillusionment, despair, humiliation, and guilt that they would experience! When He appeared to them in another form after the resurrection, they expressed the confusion they had felt over the outcome of His 3 1/2 year crusade of radical revolution. He was the one they had hoped would redeem Israel! Even in their last conversation with Him before His Ascension, they continued to anticipate the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel and the Throne of David as it was before. The throne of David would be restored all right, but this time in a much higher order!
In this new order, they would serve the subjects of the King, rather than dominate over them. The teachings, the rebukes, the breaking -- the shock of the cross, and the revelation of His glorious Self, would all accomplish the transformation in them that He intended. They would no longer be men who needed to constrain their drive to dominate. They became the new wineskin of selfless, humble souls who came to a place of ultimate trust in Christ and His Life. This soft, yielding, moldable and pliable condition which He brought them unto became the secret of their success! They most likely had no Bible School education, or training in public speaking. But they did spend some quality time with the Master, who brought them to this place of utter helplessness before Him!
Consider Paul, as one born out of due season. He may have missed the training that Peter and the others had with Jesus before the cross, but this was no apparent handicap for Him. Earlier he had risen to the place of respected hatchet man for the Pharisees, when the Risen Jesus stopped him in his tracks. No doubt the face of Stephen as he was being stoned had haunted this man for some time. Now he was faced with the Lord Himself. Then, stricken with blindness and rescued by one of those that he was persecuting, he underwent three days of fasting for this time of breaking. But what resurrection life and power of deliverance later flowed from this man, as he became another wineskin or vessel to become filled with the New Wine of the Holy Spirit!
What we are observing here is not a formula, but a process by which deep relationships with the Saviour are formed. All of Christendom could fast and pray for the wrong reasons and never know the reality of His New Wine! We are talking about the dealings of God and how we are to respond to them. We are talking about the obsession to know Him more deeply, and bowing low to His Will and Sovereignty in our lives. This process of exposing our arrogance, pride and selfish desires is for our good and His greater glory. He is liberating us from every weight that so easily besets us!
In our day, the new wineskin that Jesus is preparing could very well be a core of committed, passionate people who have submitted to the dealings of God voluntarily. They have a seasoning about them that inspires others to love and believe in Jesus as well. They have faced their differences as well as their weaknesses with total confidence in Jesus. These servants of God and humanity will find ways to relate to one another with exuberance, as they hunger for that reality of Jesus that can only be found in His Body.
Their sense of community will definitely impact church structure, i.e., the way we meet and accomplish tasks together. There are some visible signs of progress in this area already. The people of God are beginning to experience a greater liberty in Christ today as they begin to break free from the strongholds of man's traditions. These are encouraging signs! But even more encouraging is the evidence of true unity as tender, broken and contrite hearts come together to exalt His Name in word and deed.