Readers of Scripture encounter two undeniable truths as they pore over the gospel accounts of Jesus:
- He came to bring a new way of living,
- Most people weren’t interested (after all, He was crucified).
Probably a third truth tracks subconsciously through our minds as we read about Him:
- I wouldn’t have treated Jesus that way.
It’s important to understand the radical call of Jesus. He didn’t come to bring a better life; He came to bring new life. Jesus wasn’t an upgrade or the next generation, He was something entirely different. Most people would accept a better life, but how many of us really want a new life? We’re good for a few improvements here or there, for tidying things up a bit, improving things generally, but we don’t really want anything too extreme. We’re certainly not interested in rebuilding from the ground up. The truth is, most of us would probably be a little bit insulted by such a suggestion. Maybe we need a tune-up—but not a complete overhaul! More to the point, we’re pretty comfortable where we are. Most of us have the mentality that it’s better to just keep the problems we have than to exchange them for a leap into the unknown.
I imagine that was the way Nicodemus felt when Jesus told him he needed to be born again (John 3). Since Nicodemus knew Jesus was a great teacher sent from God, I’m sure he was expecting Him to point out a few improvements he could make in his life. But telling him he needed to be born again was the kind of thing a Gentile (one who didn’t know God), would be told!
But Jesus wasn’t picking on Nicodemus. He told other religious leaders who were unwilling to abandon their traditions and lifestyles they were trying to put new wine (His teachings) in old wineskins (their current life). If new (unfermented) wine is put into a previously used wineskin, the residue (bacteria) from the previous wine will trigger the fermentation process and explode the skin. You must have a new, clean, treated wineskin. The same truth applies to patching old clothes. It’s folly to patch old clothing with new (unshrunk) material. When it is washed, it will pull away from the clothing.
Christ not only calls us to become new when we come to Him, He calls us to retain such newness. The Scripture speaks of us having our minds renewed (Romans 12:1-2), and being renewed daily (2 Corinthians 4:4). Maybe the most important text is Colossians 3:9-10, where we’re told, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
God created us in His image to live as His image in the world. That’s a lofty call. When you answer it, don’t bother bringing your old wineskins.