Good Wine By Grace

This week the Ruach prompted me to teach about wine—especially the good wine that the Ruach makes in earthen jars or leather wineskins—by God’s grace. (Note: several interesting digressions in the podcast!)

In John 2, Yeshua and His disciples go to a wedding a Cana—a village near Nazareth. So the bride and groom were probably His friends or even extended family. 3 “When the wine ran out, Yeshua‘s mother said to Him, “They don’t have any wine!” 4 Yeshua said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with you and Me? My hour hasn’t come yet.””

Was Yeshua being rude or disobedient to Mom? No. In the Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern notes that saying “Gunê!” to a woman in Greek is not nearly as cold an address as “Woman!” in English. Yeshua explains his concern: It’s not just a matter of you and Me, Mom. My hour (for supernatural action) hasn’t come yet. In other words, Yeshua also had to wait for the Father to prompt Him, by the Ruach HaKodesh.

Stone water jar found at Cana

Miriam then tells “the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”” Was she being impertinent? I don’t think so. Apparently she a mother’s intuition of what the Father’s Ruach was about to do. Sure enough, Yeshua then tells the servants to fill six stone jars to the brim with fresh water. Apparently Abba Father prompted with something like, “Son, she’s right. It’s time now.”

I take some comfort in this—have any of the zakenim (elders) noticed that I might change my mind?  I’ll have an initial reaction, then pray and listen a bit more…. Grace comes to those who pray & listen. V’eemru? (And let us say?) Grace works that way—a gentle suggestion, a gentle prompting of the Ruach, and obedience.

Then the headwaiter commented to the bridegroom (John 2:10), “Everyone brings out the good wine first, and whenever they are drunk, then the worse. But you’ve reserved the good wine until now!”

I am not a connoisseur of wines—we usually drink sweet Manischewitz on Erev Shabbat—yet apparently Abba Father is. Good wine, like a good wedding, is a symbol of joy. Abba Father loves a good wedding—me, too! How well I remember my own wedding, as well as each wedding over which I have presided! The new wine was His gift to the wedding couple—looking forward to the wedding of the Lamb.

And it came from stone jars. As 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” How wonderful that Abba shows His grace through ordinary earthen vessels—through us. V’eemru?

Turn to Luke 5:37-39, for another lesson about good wine.  From the Tree of Life Version: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, it will be spilled out, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. No man who drinks old wine wants new, because he says, ‘The old is fine.'”

Many Christian teachers interpret this parable something like this (quoting from a Christian teaching on the web: “Jesus used the analogy of wineskins to show that the Jewish legalism of the Old Testament was inflexible and outdated.” How many of you have heard an interpretation like this?

A variation of this interpretation is the new wine is the Holy Spirit. There was even a magazine in the heyday of the charismatic movement called New Wine. This interpretation is often tied to what Paul says in Ephesians 5:18. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” So, the Spirit is like wine, giving us new experiences of God, only without the hangover. Good! The old wineskin was the hypocritical lifestyle of the Pharisees, still observing the law of Moses. How many of you have heard something like this interpretation?

I want to suggest an interpretation that fits the actual context of the parable better. Let’s go back a few verses in Luke chapter 5:30:

The Pharisees and their Torah scholars began murmuring to His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”  Yeshua answered and said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a doctor, but those who are sick do. I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinful to repentance.”  But they said to Him, “John’s disciples often fast and offer prayers, as do the disciples of the Pharisees. But Your disciples are eating and drinking.” But Yeshua said to them, “You cannot make the guests of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?”

(Note again the association of wine and weddings—only now Yeshua Himself is the bridegroom.)

Then Yeshua tells them the parable about tear patches from new garments and putting new wine in new wineskins. So, in context, the new wine would be Yeshua’s new disciples, freshly called to follow Yeshua.  At the time, they were raw, just learning who Yeshua really and the nature of His kingdom. Yeshua’s new garment or new wineskin was His new way of training His disciples,  teaching them to reach out to everyone with the Good News—even tax collectors and prostitutes, proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God to the lost with supernatural power and joy.  Are you with me so far?

Nor is the old wineskin or old garment Pharisaic Jewish laws and tradition (let alone the Torah).  The issue at hand was that the Pharisees and John the Immerser trained their disciples to fast. Instead, Yeshua was treating His disciples as a new patch or new wine—with the grace and joy of the presence of the bridegroom. So Yeshua was saying to his critics, please be patient while I train my new disciples. when they are mature, then they will be good!

Now let’s consider the old wine.  Most Christian interpreters tend to ignore the virtue of the old wine. Nevertheless, Luke makes it clear that new wine is not necessarily better than the old—indeed most people say that old wine is good; wine stored a few years in a cool cellar is fine! When you go to a winery, would you expect the tastiest vintage to be new wine, or old?  Indeed, what was so remarkable about the miracle of Cana, the wine, though new, was the best!   So, Yeshua hadn’t just turned water into wine, he turned it into what tasted like good old wine!

Yeshua’s goal with His disciples was for them to become mature, good wine, too.   Same with us!  V’eemru?  How many of you want to become good wine, fit for a wedding feast?

So, Yeshua was not criticizing the old wine of the “Jewish legalism of the Old Testament.” Rather, He was commending the potential of new wine to become good—by God’s grace. Too many Christians fall into either-or thinking between Old and New Testaments, grace and law.

Yet the Torah is full of grace! As Dan Juster said, in a teaching that Pericles passed on to me: “The Exodus of slaves being led to the promise land is proof that salvation is by grace through faith. The children of Israel could not rescue themselves from bondage—only supernatural intervention. Israel’s rescue was given to them freely, before they had done any good deeds of righteousness. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, before circumcision. Circumcision was obedience to remain in the covenant. We enter into covenant by an act of invitation by grace, before any of our own good works. Then God graciously offered the covenant of Sinai [the covenant at Sinai is often compared to a wedding, with the Torah as a ketubah or marriage contract]. So the Exodus from bondage shows that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of grace.”

Indeed, the Mosaic covenant prepares the way for Messiah’s New Covenant of—also by grace. There’s even a Hebrew word for grace—chen—it occurs 68 times in the Tanakh.

We can trace either-or thinking between Old and New Testaments, between grace and law, to a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching, especially when Paul says in Romans 6:14-15, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!”

When “you are under grace,” Paul refers to the New Covenant, into which you enter by grace:  Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us.”

Just as the slaves in Egypt could not rescue themselves, no matter how hard they worked, so none of us can save ourselves from bondage to sin, no matter how hard we work. So Messiah died for us, so that we could be justified, or made righteous, by trusting in His work. That’s grace, amazing grace. V’eemru?

Yet it’s not as if Paul is saying Torah has no place in the gracious New Covenant. May it never be!

First of all, the law reveals to us what our transgressions are, so that we realize our need for grace. One effective way to proclaim the Good News is to gently challenge people, “Do you think you’re going to heaven? Well, suppose God were to decide based on how well you’ve kept His Ten Commandments.

Have you ever stolen anything. (It doesn’t have to be a bank robbery–just taking something that you knew belonged to someone else.) Really? Oh…. 

Have you ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?

Hmm… How do you think God would judge you now, based on the Ten Commandments?

Would you like to hear about a way God has provided to satisfy His righteous requirements?”

This way—called the Way of the Master—can be found in Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount, where the Master Himself challenged His hearers with “Have you ever lusted in your heart? Have you ever been angry enough to curse someone? Beware the fire of Gehenna!” The Way of the Master uses the law to awaken people to their need of God’s grace and salvation. It works! Contact Ray Comfort or more locally Ray Valentine if you’d like a bit more training in the Way of the Master.

Then, after we trust in Yeshua, is it all grace and no law? Can we keep on sinning? May it never be! Rather, the Torah now teaches us (the word Torah means instruction) how to walk with Messiah. In other words, by grace Torah works together with the Ruach, resulting in sanctification.

So Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua.” Graciously, Messiah Yeshua has delivered those who trust in His sacrifice from the condemnation of the curses pronounced against those who transgress the Torah.  V’eemru?

Romans 8:3, “For what was impossible for the Torah—since it was weakened on account of the flesh—God has done.” Torah cannot make us righteous—not because there is anything wrong with Torah, which is holy and good, but because of the weakness of our own flesh.

Continuing with rest of Romans 8:3 and 4: “Sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering, He condemned sin in the flesh— 4 so that the requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Ruach.” Messiah Yeshua became like us, in human flesh, prone to sin (though He did no sin Himself), so that He might become a sin-offering for us, to atone for our sin. Then the righteous requirement of the Torah may be fulfilled in us, when we stop walking according to the flesh, but according to the Ruach. Of course, such a walk also requires God’s grace. V’eemru?

So you see, Paul is not teaching Torah versus grace, but Torah with grace. Not either-or; both-and.

Or to put in terms of a few simple equations:
Torah – Grace = legalism
Grace – Torah = licentiousness (Shall we keep on sinning! May it never be!)
Torah + Grace = justification (righteousness before God in Messiah)
Grace + Torah = sanctification (walking in the way of holiness with the Ruach)

Let me illustrate with a few practical principles. God gives grace to the humble. One of the things I really appreciate about many of you—such as Pat or Tim or Shameika—is your willingness to serve with humility—you serve, without calling attention to yourselves. The stone jars at the wedding in Cana were ready to be filled with water or wine and the servants who filled them did so gladly and without even being name,  yet they were key players in the story of God’s grace. God gives grace to the humble—and to such servants will He say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” V’eemru?

One of the things I really appreciate about the Reiter family—especially Isaac—is their eagerness to learn new things. New wineskins (disciples living by grace) are flexible—to accommodate new wine fermenting. So those who fulfill the Torah with grace are flexible, with hearts open to learn new things.  New disciples will grow quickly if they hearts are open and flexible. Even those of us who have been follow Yeshua for a few years will continue to grow in grace if our hearts are open and flexible. Let us not be inflexible or stubborn (like old wineskins or ancient Israelites), but teachable. V’eemru?

One of the things I really appreciate about those who eagerly move in the gift of prophecy—like Paul or Nancy or Vikki—is their willingness to respond to the prompting the Ruach HaKodesh. Though Yeshua didn’t do as His Mom suggested, He did take a moment to listen to His heavenly Abba—and the Ruach prompted Him. “Now is the hour. Let My grace bring forth good wine and more joy to this wedding!” Grace prompts us to move. In that moment when grace prompts you, I encourage you to move, Whether it be in prophecy or in acts or words prompted by lovingkindness or by compassion,  let God’s Ruach move you, like wind moves branches.

1 Corinthians 14:1 bids us, “Pursue love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.”  Often I hear someone say to me, as we’re waiting in an oneg line,“Rabbi, I had a word during the prophecy time” or “I had something to share during breakout discussion.” so I encourage them to trust a little more in the Ruach HaKodesh.

Some of you may have seen on Facebook that I explained to Kathy Van Dyke that confidence comes from the Latin meaning “with faith.” When it comes to doing the things of God, you don’t need to have confidence in yourself; just have confidence in God. Did you all hear that? When you let yourself have confidence in God, then His grace can move through you, as easy as wind moving branches.

Also, remember that the motivation of the gifts of the Spirit must be love. As 1 Corinthians 13:2 says, “If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith to move mountains but have not love, I am nothing.”

My skin may be getting old and warty—but I believe God can renew this wineskin yet—by grace. Some of younger people may have smoother skin, but are your hearts supple for God’s Spirit? Whether young or old or between, the oil of God’s anointing is available to make us fresh wineskins, able to expand to accommodate more of God’s grace, to be humble and obedient servants, and to move with grace prompts you. V’eemru?

This sermon may not to be reprinted in whole or in part without the express written consent of Messianic Rabbi Glenn D. Blank of Beit Simcha.  Your generous support for our ministry and building project is appreciated!

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