I’m currently reading through the Gospel of Luke in my personal daily devotion time, and I’d like to focus on one portion of the text, Luke 5:27-39 (see here for reference).
At the beginning of this passage, Jesus calls Levi/Matthew, a thoroughly despised tax collector, to follow Him (vv. 27-28). We’re then told Matthew put together a large feast at his house and invited many of his friends to attend so that they could listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees were scandalized that Jesus associated with those notorious sinners, to which He replied that He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (vv. 29-32). Not content with that, and observing what must have been quite a banquet, the Pharisees then pointed out that the disciples of John the Baptist and their own followers fasted often, but that Jesus’ disciples were having a grand time enjoying what was undoubtedly a very lavish dinner. Jesus replied that the time was coming, when He would be gone, and His followers would then fast (vv. 33-35). Then Jesus told the familiar parables about not using a patch from a new piece of cloth to repair an old garment because it would shrink after being washed and rip the garment, and not putting new wine into old wineskins because the wine would ferment, expand, and burst the inelastic old skins (vv. 36-38). Jesus then sums up with the statement that appears only in Luke,
“And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good’” (v. 39).
That’s an amazing statement that sometimes gets overlooked in the retelling of the patch and wineskins parables. Jesus is referring directly to the Pharisees and their beloved religion of legalism, ritual, and ceremony. The Pharisees knew from their vast knowledge of Scripture that a promised Messiah would someday come as a Savior, but they interpreted Messianic Scripture passages as referring to a temporal deliverer, not as a personal Redeemer from sin. The Pharisees were very religious men and were proud of their severe piety, which they assumed would merit their salvation. They cherished their complicated rabbinical Judaism and were outraged by this itinerant Nazarene preacher who seemed to them to be challenging all that they held so dear with His “new” teachings.
Verse 39 was directed toward the Pharisees, but also has application for today. The “new wine” Gospel message of early Christianity devolved over the centuries into an institution with catalog after catalog of impersonal rituals, ceremonies, and religious rules. The Roman Catholic church had, in effect, become the purveyors of a revamped Levitical priesthood and a complex sacrificial religious system. The new way had been transformed back into the old way. The priests and bishops had, in effect, taken up the role of the Pharisees and, for them, the old way was good. That development is not at all surprising. As the apostle Paul relates in his epistles, “old wine” Judaizers were constantly infiltrating the church even during the time of his ministry.
For the Catholic clergy,
…the priesthood seemed right to them, even though the veil of the Jerusalem temple was rent in twain and the human priesthood was abolished.
…ongoing sacrifice for sin seemed right to them, even though Jesus ended sacrifice for sin by His once-for-all-time sacrifice on Calvary.
…meriting salvation seemed right to them, even though God’s Word says no one can possibly merit salvation.
For them, the old was good.
The Catholic priests and prelates certainly talk about Jesus. They even refer to Jesus as “Savior.” But the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone is repugnant to them. They claim that the old religion of perpetual sacrifice and merited salvation is better.
I praise God for raising up the 16th-century Reformers to reclaim the “new wine” Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone!