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  |   Author: Ernest Ojigho

IT WAS RELATIVELY EARLY in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. His fame was growing, so was opposition to His teachings and Himself as plots and attempts to eliminate Him are seen early in His ministry. Yet He was undaunted. Truth must be made available to all who desired it and help must be offered to those who recognized their desperate need for it.

The Lord Jesus Christ was never in doubt or confused as to why He left His Heavenly glory to earth. He knew that God was about to pour out His grace on mankind in an unprecedented fashion. He knew quite early in His ministry that He had come to die for the sins of every member of the human race. And because He was aware of all these facts, He never hesitated to unfold them whenever He had opportunity to do so. One of such occasions presented itself at a feast held in His honour at the house of Matthew (also called Levi), possibly in Matthew's home town of Capernaum.

It must be pointed out that this incidence that in Matthew's house this fateful evening is so important that it captured the attention of three gospel writers - Matthew, Mark and Luke. Though all gospel writers wrote from their perspectives, whenever a story or event is recorded by all of them, it shows that the story or event must have been quite significant from the perspectives they were writing from.

We do not know why the dinner feast was declared by the tax collector for Jesus. All we are told by Mark was "that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there are many, and they followed Him" (Mark 2: 15). The dinner feast was probably to show gratitude that Jesus considered him worthy to be a part of His ministry. Whatever be the reason, Levi, the tax collector declared a party and invited quite a lot of his professional colleagues and friends who had opportunity to come close to hear Jesus.

One can imagine what possibly went through the minds of these self-righteous religious leaders as they observed Jesus at the table with these tax collectors and 'sinners'. They possibly must have thought, "How can this righteous man possibly defile Himself with these sinners and social outcast?" When they could no longer curtail their mental agitation, they confronted our Lord's disciples and invariably the Lord. Hear them: "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (Luke 5:30). To this the Lord gave an answer that was both final and laden with divine wisdom yet void of legalism and the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Luke 5: 31). As though not satisfied with the Lord's answer to their earlier question, they asked another one that further exposed how shallow and ignorant they are as to the Lord's mission. "Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink" (Luke 5:33).

After the Lord had answered this second question in verses 34 - 35 of Luke 5, we are told by Luke that "He then spoke a parable to them" (v. 36 - 39). It is this parable of our Lord that is the focus of this article. To my mind, this parable aptly summarizes in a rather pointed manner all the Lord wanted this "great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them" to understand. The Lord's two answers to the two questions of the Pharisees and their Scribes together with the beautiful parable, though more than two thousand years old when first spoken from the gracious lips of our Lord and God, are still very significant and relevant to the 21st century church and believer.

In my limited years in the ministry, I have come to the conclusion that there is a huge departure from the faith the early Apostles preached and practised. This is most probably so because Pastors and Preachers whose responsibility it is to study and rightly divide the Word of truth, and then teach Christians, do a lot of harm by bringing confusion and false doctrine to the minds of believers in their lopsided emphasis on certain issues in the Bible to the detriment of the total counsel of the Word. For instance the doctrine of prosperity as taught today is mainly supported using Jewish or Old Testament Scriptures.

The Significance of the Parable

Right on the table during the feast were wineskins filled with wine which were served to guests. At the time of Jesus, bottles were not what they are today. Technology has made it possible to make modern bottles from pure sharp sand. It was not so back then. Wines were served in wineskins made from animal leather.

Asked why he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus never hesitated in setting the issues straight. The real issue is not holier than thou as portrayed by the religious leaders. The real issue is not in self-righteous arrogance as taught and exemplified by the Pharisees and their Scribes. The real issue as far as God is concerned is identification with people in order to save them. It is looking beyond people's faults (which we all have) to see their needs and doing something about their deep spiritual needs. This was Jesus clear message.

In answering the first question, Jesus made it crystal clear that the call of God for salvation is to all, but not all will benefit from it. Only those who recognised their need for salvation will be saved because "those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick ..." (Luke 5:31). Salvation is offered free to all, but only those who are "poor in spirit" and see their need for the Saviour will benefit from it, not those who think that they have arrived. The righteous being referred to here are those who do not see their need for the Saviour, because in their own estimate, they are "well" and "have no need of a physician". Jesus made it clear that he had come for sinners. How was he ever to reach them if he distanced himself from them? He would never be distracted by the modus operandi of the Pharisees. His style was simply different.

These self-righteous ones could not fault the Master's answer to them. They asked another one (Luke 5: 33). This time, it was not on His person and how he executed His life, they tactfully shifted the focus to His disciples. "If we cannot fault Him on His lifestyle, perhaps we can with that of His disciples," they probably reasoned. Here again, His answer was equally fascinating (Luke 5:34 - 35).

There is no doubt that the Master all the while anticipated the coming dispensation of grace when the bridegroom will be taken away from His disciples. It will then be obviously relevant for them to fast with purpose and meaning. From the look of things, these religious leaders endorsed those who fasted from a sense of religious obligation, thinking erroneously that such religious duties can earn the approbation of God. Religious rituals without purpose are dead and can only produce dead works. In answering their misconceptions, Jesus made it clear that the real issue in observance of these - fasting and prayer - should not be a form of legalistic righteousness, but with a deep sense of personal freedom in the spirit. It was at this juncture that "He spoke a parable to them."

Parables are stories told using symbols and figures to make salient points. They are designed and intended to be interpreted within the context of their purposes. If we miss this point, we may miss the whole purpose of the parables. In telling this parable, Jesus anticipated what He came to give to every member of the human race - eternal life. He was simply silently robbing it into the thinking of all those present that the radical and liberating message of the soon coming era of grace cannot simply be squeezed into the mould of the Old Testament legalism and rituals. The Mosaic Law cannot be woven together with the New Testament "law" any more than water and oil can mix. Any attempt to force the Old and the New together as so many are doing is very dangerous indeed.

The message to us today is clear. To blend the Jewish way of life with the Christian way of life is a misrepresentation and a misunderstanding of the Word of God. God distinguishes the two and to preach and teach from the Scriptures as though no distinction is made is not only "wrongly dividing the Word of Truth", but an affront on the wisdom and purpose of God who distinguished the two dispensations. This is a major implication of what the Master was driving home that fateful evening. "No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one, ... and no one puts a new wine into old wineskins ... But new wine must be put into new wineskin, and both are preserved" (Luke 5: 36 - 38).

Looking from how the Lord spoke that evening, it was clear that the beauty of the New can easily be jeopardized and the value of old compromised if any attempt is made to blend the two together. This should be a major lesson for all Christians and most especially, Pastors. It has become common to hear preachers today use "Jewish Scriptures" to justify their human psychology and philosophy as they preach. Yet the Word of God must be rightly divided. Since we belong to the era or dispensation of grace, we must put new wine in new wineskins or bottles. We must rightly divide the Word of Truth if we must maximize our benefit the Old. If Pastors do not approach the Word of God with this understanding, the resultant effect on the consciousness of those they teach is nothing, but spiritual retrogression. New wine must be put in new wineskins.

It is atrocious today that so many Pastors major on Old Testament alone. Apostle Paul was the man used tremendously by God to expose this dispensation of grace to us. It will therefore be wise to major on both his epistles and the epistles of other Apostles if we are to make significant progress in our spiritual lives. If we neglect them, we do to our own detriments.

It may not be difficult to see why it has become difficult for some to continue to confuse the Jewish way of life with the Christian way of life considering what the Lord concluded His parable with. Wine brewers tell us that the longer the wine, the better or sweeter, but that's how far it goes.

The New dispensation of Grace is infinitely better than the dispensation of law. Absolutely! But the point is that many people today as it was in Jesus' days are hooked onto the old way such that the new does not appeal to them. Though human conservative nature resists anything new, which is quite understandable, in spiritual matters however we must embrace the New in place of the Old, however appealing the old might be. That is the point in verse 39.

Looking at our world critically, we can safely say that this resistance to the better and simple means of executing the Christian way of life is so prevalent. It is easier to identify with the Jewish way of life in issues of promotion, health and prosperity at the total neglect of weightier spiritual issues of the New Testament taught in all the epistles. Some of the ridiculous conclusions of these teachings leave one wondering whether the epistles are read or studied at all. These points are aptly captured by Dr. C.I. Scofield thus: "it may safely be said that the Judaizing of the Church has done more to hinder her progress, pervert her mission, and destroy her spiritually, than all other causes combined. Instead of pursuing her appointed path of separation from the world and following the Lord in her heavenly calling, she has used Jewish scriptures to justify herself in lowing her purpose to the civilization of the world, the acquisition of wealth, the use of an imposing ritual, the erection of magnificent churches, the invocation of God's blessing upon the conflicts of armies, and the division of an equal brotherhood into "clergy" and "laity".

The only way we can promote true spirituality and advance the Kingdom of God is to heed the powerful lesson in the parable told by the Lord that night in Matthew's house: NEW WINE MUST BE PUT IN NEW WINESKINS

You have in your hand the maiden edition of the Christian Way of Life Magazine. This publication is dedicated to the teachings of doctrines about the Christian Way of Life. This will be our focus and commitment in the issues ahead.

We place this and subsequent issues of this Magazine in your hands with the prayer that you will be sufficiently motivated to live "out your salvation with fear and trembling". This can only be possible if we resolve to put the New Wine of our regenerated lives in the wineskins of the God's Grace using God's Word that is rightly divided and executing the Christian Life under the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. This will be radically different from the legalistic and ritualistic framework and platform of the Old Testament or the Jewish Way of Life.

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