Sunday, September 11, 2022

Jesus eats with Sinners and Tax Collectors: The Parable of the New Wine into Old Wineskins

The last few weeks we were in the vineyard, working the fields, sweating, watering vines, pruning vines, getting sweaty, talking servanthood, talking pride vs. humility, talking about the kingdom of God pattern in regard to gifts received, timing, all of it.

Now we’re coming in from the vineyard fields, and we’re sitting down at a banquet to speak of other matters.

But first, we follow Jesus as he comes to a certain tax booth, and he calls a man that few others would have even spoken to. Jesus calls a tax collector.

Now, we today don’t think of tax collectors too poorly. It’s just another profession. We might dislike it, if someone maybe worked for the IRS, we would probably understand well it’s just their job.

Very different in ancient Israel. Israel had been conquered by the Roman empire, and the tax collectors were Jews working for Rome. So think of something quite different, what if the USA was conquered by Russia or China, and you had Americans who were working for the Russian government, collecting taxes on behalf of a foreign power. Additionally, tax collectors would collect above and beyond what the Romans required, and keep the extra for themselves.

We would probably see such a person as a traitor to the United States, serving a foreign power. Yet Jesus isn’t concerned about that. He looks past these kinds of distinctions directly to the person.

That is our calling as well. Keep this in your mind, and in your heart, incredibly important what I’m about to tell you…

See the person himself, or herself, not what they appear to be.

If I see a drunk guy, I don’t see a drunk guy, I see a man made in God’s image.

If I see a democrat, I see a person made in God’s image.

If I see someone high on drugs, I don’t see an addict, I see a woman made in God’s image.

If I see a police officer, a pedophile, a poor man, a rich woman, a politician, a sexually promiscuous man or woman, a girl with pink hair, a man with piercings all over his face, a gay or lesbian couple, a trump supporter, a far left progressive activist, a salesman at a marijuana store, a catholic, a protestant…

Train yourself to see past your first reaction to the person made in God’s image.

That is not easy, we as humans are wired to stereotype, to make assumptions, to otherize people, Jesus looks right to heart, and instead of seeing what they were, Jesus sees what they can be in Him.

And Jesus did the same for every single person here, when we were in sin, that’s when Jesus came to us, and changed us.

Take a look in your Bibles at Luke 5:27-32 which is the context for our parable today. It says:

27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

This is something we considered several weeks back, that Jesus came for those who had been humbled by sin. Jesus came and the people that followed Him were simply people who were willing to admit, hey I need God, and I’m humble enough to admit it. So often you would see Pharisees reject Jesus, because they thought they had all they needed. Yet even near the end of Jesus ministry, many of the Pharisees did believe in Jesus.

In any case, we have to avoid two traps in our Christian mission. The first trap is the trap of the Pharisees. We’ve all here been set free from sin and made righteous in Christ. Sometimes though we can fall into the attitude of condemning those still caught in sin. So the Pharisees said to Jesus, why do you eat with sinners? We can end up the same way if we aren’t careful, we end up condemning others. Instead of offering them the same free gift we received.

Here's the second danger though, scriptures like this are sometimes used to justify sin. Well, Jesus ate with sinners, so that must mean that sinning is OK. Which is why when Jesus replied to the Pharisees, he said, “I have come to call sinners, to repentance.” One of those things you don’t hear about in the modern church much anymore, repentance, putting aside old ways and living the new way.

For some progressive Christians today though, they almost change the wording and want it to say, “I have come to learn from sinners and sin with them.” No, no, no.

That is not it either. Not even close.

So we find ourselves in this sacred balance, we have been made new and freed from every sin, and rightfully so, we despise those sins that used to keep us chained. I despise those things that used to control me and destroy me. How couldn’t I? Indeed, God hates sin far more than I do.

And yet, my job is not to condemn people caught in those sins. Or to look down on them. Or to think of them as less than. But to see them as people worthy of being treated with dignity, respect, kindness, love, and gentleness. People to be called to the love of Jesus, people to be called to repentance, to leave the dead ways and enter the way of life in Christ.

That is the sacred balance. See infinite worth and value in someone who may be blitzed, brutally drunk, smells bad, out of control, boisterous, rude, and to see still have the love of Jesus in your eyes for that person, learn that, and you’ll be on the golden road.

The conversation continues. Jesus is sitting at this banquet table with tax collectors who work for Rome, and sinners, prostitutes, drunks, and you’ve got pharisees, asking him questions.

Next…Luke 5:33-39, "They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

The Pharisees know that John the Baptist’s ministry is associated with Jesus’ ministry and John’s ministry they somewhat respected, even though it seemed odd to them. So they seem to try to drive a wedge here between John and Jesus’ disciples.

But they are simply trying to trip up Jesus in his words so they can accuse him. As a teacher, a rabbi, the Pharisees know if they can catch up him in his words and make him look wrong, they can use it as a basis for having him arrested for breaking jewish law.

Jesus is not concerned. He indicates that while he’s here, the people are celebrating, this is a great time, with Jesus on Earth with the people. Of course they should celebrate.

But Jesus doesn’t condemn fasting either. Fasting is a biblical practice. He says that after he is crucified, and resurrected and goes to heaven, then of course during those times the disciples will fast. Similar for us today, Jesus is not physically with us on Earth, he’s in heaven, so, we often fast and pray, fast and pray, in fact in this church we tend to fast together once a year at the beginning of the year as we seek God’s will for the year to come. Praise the Lord.

Next, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate the point he’s making. But actually, you could say it’s two parables.

It says: 36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

This is a fascinating parable. And there is not necessarily a consensus in theological circles about exactly what Jesus meant when he said this.

Here are some of the possible interpretations given…

1. Jesus’ teachings pitted against traditional Judaism (old replaced by new)

2. Jesus’ teachings greater than traditional Judaism (old gives way to the new)

3. Fasting question answered: Don’t replace the oral tradition with following the Torah, replace it with Jesus’ teachings

4. Fasting question answered: Fasting isn’t appropriate for the disciples of Jesus prior to Pentecost when they receive the Holy Spirit

In any case, what we see here is that Jesus is talking in terms they could understand. He’s telling a parable based on two concepts. First of all he talks about clothing.

If you have an old shirt, that you really like, you wouldn’t want to take cloth from a brand new shirt to patch it, because a new shirt will shrink when you wash it. So after you patched the old shirt and wash it, the new cloth on it would shrink and the patch wouldn’t hold properly.

Then Jesus talks about wineskins. In the ancient world to make wine you would have to gather the juice from the vineyard grapes you’ve harvested, and then you’d have to combine that juice with yeast, a living organism, into the juice, that converts the sugar in the grapes to alcohol during the fermentation process. But a massive biproduct of this process is carbon dioxide gas. So in the ancient world the juice would be placed with the yeast in these large wineskins, made from animals hide, because during the fermentation process the skins will expand and then detract as the gas is released.

So if you were to place the fermenting product in an old wineskin, it would expand and burst the skin. So you would need to place it in a brand new wineskin, which could handle the expansion due to the carbon dioxide gases.

So what is the point Jesus is trying to get across here? From my study, I think he’s trying to indicate several points to the Pharisees questioning him as well as to his disciples gathered around the table.

First that the way of perfect love which is the way of Jesus, which is also the way of the Old Testament, is something that we can only live out as a new vessel. It’s something we can only live after being born again, receiving forgiveness of our sins in Christ, and receiving the Holy Spirit as our guide and comforter.

And how often, in our day and age as well, do we see people who have not encountered Jesus Christ and been born again, attempting to live out a sort of religious practice. They have the practices, the formalism, the rituals, even the prayers, and the readings, but they don’t have Jesus Christ, they’ve not been made new, they are not born again of the Holy Spirit.

But secondly, this is told in response to a question about fasting. The disciples can’t fast while Jesus is with them, they’re rejoicing being with Jesus, but later, they Jesus will ascend to heaven, and then they will fast, because after this, they’ve received the Holy Spirit, the master is not there, and they will be filled anew.

Thirdly, he is speaking to the Pharisees about their entire attitude. They had questioned why he has sitting with sinners. Then they asked him why his disciples weren’t doing religious rituals. Well, Jesus the Lord is telling them, you’ve got it all backwards. You’re trying to create holiness in people without first seeing their fundamental nature changed.

And that was the practice of Torah, live by the rules of the Torah, by faith and you’ll be right with God. But Jesus had came to complete the work of the Torah, by changing people fundamentally from within.

The Pharisees had the attitude of many today, do religious things and you’ll be right with God. Those are certainly good things to do, Jesus did not reject things like fasting, prayer, church attendance, no but he is saying, you must be born again, made new, then you can practice the religious practices properly, then you can live the way God wants you to live.

His disciples would fast and pray, but not until after they’d been born again and given the Holy Spirit, and as well once Jesus had been taken away.

Jesus had flipped the pyramid structure upside down. Previously it had been a journey up a mountain, slowly learning the Old Testament laws and practicing them. Jesus flipped it and said no, actually, many of the worst sinners are going to enter first because they’re humble enough to realize they need me, they need Jesus to fundamentally change who they are. Then, they can live the way God wants them to live, working from a clean slate, a fresh start. That is the deep truth here.

Could anyone be a Christian who is not born again? Of course not. Like new wine in old skins, the skins burst, it doesn’t work.

But if the person is made new, born again, old gone, new here, then, they may live the Christian life, and the Holy Spirit, the new, can make a home in them.

So what does this mean for us today?

It means stop trying to make yourself good enough, and receive Jesus Christ as your savior first. Be fully born again and receive the Holy Spirit, then, you will fast and pray, and grow, and learn, and develop, and you’ll be supernaturally empowered to be all God has called you to be.


1. See beyond the exterior, see infinite worth in every person you meet “Made in the Image of God”

2. Despise sin, while valuing the person like gold

3. Refuse to pass judgment, while also discerning/using wisdom in all interactions

4. Invite sinners for dinner, but don’t join in their sin

5. Share the gospel as being born again, not just doing religious things

6. Do practice the discipline of fasting & prayer

7. See yourself as a Christian, as one who is a vessel for the Holy Spirit to minister through

In conclusion, I love a good feast, and there is one that I’m really looking forward to it’s called the marriage supper of the lamb, where we gather with Jesus Christ as the body of believers in heaven, to sit down and feast and fellowship together. That sounds wonderful to me, imagine it, thousands of tables, in all directions, the finest food, friends and fellowship, maybe we’ll be at the same table, since were a body of believers who do meet together on Earth, I would love that, but that is the dinner meal you want to be a part of.

And you can only get in by being born again, by receiving Jesus Christ as your savior, calling up His name alone, and receiving forgiveness for your sins, as well as a new nature, the Holy Spirit within, and repenting of your old ways, and living out the new way. Then God willing, we will be there together, to celebrate our eternal merging with Christ, as our representative before God, right now is the engagement period, but at the marriage supper, is the wedding, and so we shall be wed to our savior, forever and ever, to begin a new life, free from sin, with adventures that lead into an infinite future, beyond the sorrows of this life.