Matthew 9:16-17. “No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”
I have four children. Three of them were boys. We went through lots and lots of jeans back in the day. I used to save jeans that had become too worn to pass down. I would cut patches from them to put in the knees and backsides of jeans that were still in service. It didn’t take me long at all to understand that old fabric needed to be repaired with old fabric. A new-fabric patch would only pull at the hole and make it bigger because the new patch would shrink with washing, Not a good fit.
I don’t have any experience with wine, so I had to look that one up. Why would new wine break old bottles? What I learned is that the old wineskins get stretched to their limit during the fermenting process. Putting new wine into an old, brittle wineskin would result in an explosion.
What Jesus was describing here was a whole new order of things. The old garment is Judaism with its legal righteousness. Because man had turned the Law into an instrument of self-righteousness by which one could gain heaven, it was to be put aside. A new garment, a better righteousness, was to be given by Jehovah our Righteousness. Right standing with God was to be gained not by following every letter of the Law, but by accepting the new garment of righteousness provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The tragedy is that man loves to believe he can be a part of his own salvation, and the new garment has become an old garment, patched with new fabric, tearing and being pulled out of true by the efforts of man to create yet another works-based path to God. How sad.
To mix law and grace together is to pour new wine into old wineskins. When we do that, the old wineskins burst and we lose both the bottle and the new wine.
Ritualistic Christendom is also guilty of the new wine-old wineskin error. It is neither Christian nor Jewish. When we rely on ritual, legalistic modes of salvation, we have neither the Law nor grace. We are holding an outward form of godliness, but we deny the true power of God and His grace by diluting it with our own ideas of how salvation may be wrought.
My Own Musings:
Another thought has just occured to me, another application of this principle. All around the world today, including here in America, we are seeing a generation of young pastors trying to pour “new wine” into the old church. They believe the traditional church has outlived its usefulness, and needs a shot in the arm if it’s going to keep the young people. But if you look, you will see that all this “new wine,” in the form of “new” ideas and modalities, has resulted in a lot of broken churches and broken people. Wouldn’t it be better for those who want to instill new life into the Church to go and build a new church for their new wine? Then they can grow together, and there is not the loss and pain caused by pouring new wine into old wineskins.
Understand that I am NOT saying that this is what this passage is teaching. It is only an application of my own, and you are perfectly free to disagree. Courteously.