While I am upstairs in bed, a strange business goes on in my refrigerator, entirely out of my hands. It’s like the farmer who plants and then “sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how” (Mark 4:27).
My father and I have a bit of a contest each autumn to be first to find cider without a touch of potassium sorbate, the preservative that kills those busy little microorganisms that turn sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. I won this year and magnanimously bought the loser his own gallon. I checked his fridge the other day and noticed he hasn’t touched it yet: He’s waiting till it’s “perky.” I told him that’s risky: Past a certain point it will go too far for him. My own jug is bloating and foaming and full of promise.
Noah may have made wine accidentally. (That would redeem his curiously tarnished image from Genesis 9.) How could he have known that once the floodgates above and below were punctured, and the water vapor canopy created by God over the new earth (Genesis 1:7) was destroyed, atmospheric conditions on the planet would be altered? He wouldn’t anticipate that the greenhouse effect maintaining pole-to-pole Edenic temperatures would vanish, the most effective of all “sun blocks” would no longer be in place to filter out harmful solar radiation, and the rate of somatic mutations in cells would thus increase, hastening the pace of aging and death.
Longevity would drop off dramatically after the flood, but Noah’s particular misfortune was not to realize that the grape juice he made after disembarking on Mt. Ararat would ferment very quickly now, and the lower atmospheric pressure would make it harder for those who imbibed to hold their drink. New wine would be fast-tracked to old wine.
Jesus made new wine for a wedding in a town called Cana, of course. Although it did not exist a half hour before serving, it was instant old wine, not unlike the trees of Eden that would have had concentric rings in their cross sections. It was better than cheap plonk, if we can judge by the comment of the master of the feast (John 2:10). Nevertheless, some biblical evidence suggests that Israelites prized not only old but new wine (Nehemiah 10:35; Proverbs 3:10; Hosea 4:11; Haggai 1:11). This will become important later in this reverie on the fruit of the vine.
Jesus brought up wine in Luke 5. In this scene He is the inaugurator of the New, encountering hostile resistance from the vested proprietors of the Old. The scribes and Pharisees (5:30, 33; 6:2, 7) profess horror at the company Jesus keeps (5:30) and His violation of religious custom (6:1-2). Also, His disciples do not “fast often.” Jesus addresses them on basic wine-making principles: Expecting a man to fast and afflict his body with sadness while Jesus is with him in the flesh is as emotionally inappropriate (5:34) as pouring new wine into old wineskins. That fermenting, expanding, excitable wine would burst the seams of the old container.
The head-scratcher is that after succinctly drawing the moral to the need for change (“new wine must be put into fresh wineskins,” Luke 5:38), Jesus in the next verse seems to favor the old again: “No one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” But this is not an enigma, for Jesus is observing that people tend to get stuck in the old—and He wants us to get unstuck, if the need warrants.
The sclerosis of resistance to Holy Spirit newness, and preference for fixed and controllable traditions, is not just a Pharisee problem. Our first pastor Jack Miller warned us years ago: “We have surrendered our hearts to the familiar forms of our religious life and found comfort of soul, not in knowing God, but in knowing that our worship practices are firmly settled and nothing unpredictable will happen Sunday morning” (Outgrowing the Ingrown Church).
The Spirit is not tame. He churns in us more wildly than wild cider in my fridge downstairs.