No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the mew piece pulls away from the old and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine is spilled and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins. Mark 2:21-22
Any time we are seeking to understand a scripture passage, we must first examine what was going on with the people directly involved. Just before speaking the words above, Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s home – the account we considered last week. The fact that Jesus was associating with notorious sinners was in and of itself a scandal to the religious crowd. But apparently this gathering was on a day that the Pharisees and John’s disciples normally fasted. These disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were therefore questioning Jesus about why His disciples didn’t keep the traditional fast days imposed by rabbinic decree.
As you read the Gospels, you quickly see that conflict surrounded Jesus much of the time.
In chapter 1 Jesus is confronted with the temptation of Satan and the dangers of the wilderness and wild animals; in Capernaum he attends synagogue and is confronted with a demon possessed synagogue member.
In ch. 2 Jesus heals a paralyzed man but forgives his sin publicly first, thus causing the Pharisees to accuse him of blaspheming God. Now he has the audacity to choose a tax collector as a disciple and to actually eat with all those nasty sinners, and on a fast day no less! Jesus is just plain irritating to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus explains why his disciples do not fast by saying there is no fasting at a wedding banquet and follows that declaration with a parable about patches and old garments. The Pharisees readily understood about the wineskins; new wine expands and if the skins it is put into for fermentation are old, they’ll burst as the wine expands. Remember, there were no synthetic fabrics in the ancient world. When you washed anything made of cloth, it shrank.
But what is the wedding stuff? What in the world is He saying?
In parable language, Jesus announces that He is bringing something entirely new onto the scene – the Kingdom of God – which, by the way, will not fit in with the man made religious traditions of the elite. His coming to earth can be likened to a wedding. It is the beginning of an entirely new life for all who heed the call of the Gospel.
Jesus then made crystal clear that what He’s preaching is completely opposite of what the Pharisees are preaching. What the Pharisees preached was that you work your own way to heaven by doing enough good works to convince God that He should let you into heaven when you die. (As a friend of mine said once, ‘Good luck with that!‘)
The message of Jesus is so different, so opposite: He not only offers forgiveness to the worst of sinners but He actually is comfortable enough to sit down to a meal with them! This is an outrage to the Pharisees. And so on the heels of that act in regard to Matthew, Jesus now spells out just exactly how incompatible His message is with the establishment’s religious views. In this confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus makes abundantly clear that there is no mixing of the old ways of legalism with the coming of the Kingdom, for salvation by grace through faith is a brand new garment.
The Pharisees should have quickly related what He was saying to something they knew from the prophet, Ezekiel:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27
But they didn’t. They had it backwards. Their teaching was comprised of a legalistic and harsh keeping of rules and with His parable, Jesus declares the absolute incompatibility of the gospel with any words-based religious system.
Man’s sinfulness could not be ‘patched up’ with a few good works; mankind was in dire need of a brand new start – the gospel of repentance and forgiveness by grace made available through the precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But lest anyone misunderstand, let’s be clear. The old garment is not God’s Torah, it’s not the Old Testament. The old garment is the religious system of rituals and traditions devised by man. It is the religion of human self-righteousness and pieces of the gospel can never be stitched into it.
Make no mistake about it – the Pharisee-spirit is alive and well today. Human nature likes independence, self-sufficiency, pride of achievement. We are all the proverbial two year old who says, “I can do it myself!!!”
However, that doesn’t work when it comes to salvation or holiness. No, my dear friend, you can’t do it yourself! Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
I cannot save myself; and I cannot sanctify myself. For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Philippians 2:13 Yes, He does the work in us; all He asks is that we acknowledge our complete dependence on Him and live grateful for His grace.
This Christmas season, may we all be renewed in the wonderment of His amazing grace!