The Gospel of Matthew: Old and New Wineskins.  

16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16–17 (ESV)

In the midst of His discussion with the disciples of John and the Pharisees about fasting (Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35), Jesus introduced a parable concerning old and new wineskins (Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-39). What, if anything, did this illustration have to do with fasting?

“The use of bottles made from the skins of animals is very ancient. Water or wine bottles were frequently made from animal skins (Joshua 9:4, 13; Judges 4:19; 1 Samuel 1:24; 10:3; 2 Samuel 16:1; Nehemiah 5:18; Job 32:19; Psalms 119:83; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37). Such leather vessels are still popular among the Bedouin for their durability, portability, and accessibility since they are mostly pastoral nomads and animal herding is their main occupation,” explains commentator James M. Freeman in his book Manners and Customs of the Bible.

“In our text-verse and its parallels, allusion is made to this use of skins. When the skin is green, it stretches with the fermentation of the liquid and retains its integrity. But when it becomes old and dry, the fermentation of the new wine soon causes the skin to burst. This expression is still used today to mean that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to put new things into old ways.”

Jesus was comparing His incarnation as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and covenants. His birth, life, substitutionary death on the cross and bodily resurrection from the dead was the content and the fulfillment of the Gospel. Old rituals and the ceremonial fasting’s by John the Baptist, his disciples and the Pharisees in order to be acceptable to God had nothing to do with the New Covenant Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus responded by pointing out that there was a right time for fasting to accompany repentance, but His earthly ministry was not that occasion (Luke 5:34–35). If an old garment needs patching, one does not simply sew a new, unshrunk piece of cloth over the whole. The new patch would shrink once the mended garment was washed, and it would tear away from the older cloth, damaging it (Luke 5:36). The point is that one cannot patch the new onto the old. Jesus came not to maintain everything about the old covenant but to create a new structure for God’s people,” explains Dr. R. C. Sproul.

“One cannot put new wine into old wineskins. Old wineskins, made from animal hides, have been stretched almost to their bursting point and are brittle. New wine continues to ferment, releasing gases as it does so. If new wine were put into old wineskins, the fermentation would cause the old wineskins to rupture, and the wine would pour out and be lost. The point is that Jesus does a new work, and only a new covenant can accommodate it (Luke 5:37).”

“Some things, such as God’s moral law, are the same under the old and new covenants. Other elements of the old covenant, such as the ceremonial law of sacrifices and certain rituals, pass away (e.g., Eph. 2:15). Jesus brings something genuinely new to God’s people,” concludes Dr. Sproul.

The image of a wedding, new wineskins and new wine all describe the initiation of the New Covenant through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Rather than patching up the inadequacies of Old Testament righteousness in Judaism, Jesus offered an imputed and eternal righteousness by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. While this kingdom theology was present and prophesied in the Old Testament, it had been obscured by the Jews self-righteous religion. The two were as incompatible as old and new wineskins.

Are you endeavoring to achieve acceptance by God through your old wineskin of self-righteousness? You cannot attach Jesus to that works based, self-righteous system; although many try. True righteousness is from God and in the person and work of Jesus Christ, alone. It is accessible by God given faith alone (Rom. 3:21-26; Gal. 2:15-16; Eph. 2:8-9).

Soli deo Gloria!

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