New Wine and Old Wine Skins: Matthew 9:14-17
“14) Then the disciples of John *came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15) And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16) But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. 17) Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”” Matthew‬ ‭9‬:‭14‬-‭17‬
The disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus with a question about ceremonial fasting. Both they and the Pharisees were keeping the tradition of fasting according to the prescription of the Old Testament. (See Zechariah 8:19)
Fasting had become a religious custom in Judaism even though the Law itself did not prescribe it. Over time, religious traditions can take on the weight of spirituality and loose their original meaning and significance. Soon they are done simply because “we’ve always done it that way and woe to anyone who questions the tradition!”
Jesus was in no way minimizing fasting. He began His own ministry with an extended fast. Isaiah 58 extols the benefits of fasting for the right reasons. Fasting with the right motives is extremely powerful. Jesus was merely exposing the futility of turning fasting into an empty religious tradition.
He then used two illustrations of how many Old Testament traditions based on the Law would not translate into New Testament living based on grace and the walk in the Spirit. They are very different. Look at this simple comparison.
The old is based on works while the new is based on grace. The old is based on the Law while the new is based on the Spirit. The old is external while the new is internal. The old is dependent on the flesh while the new is dependent on the spirit. The old emphasizes religious traditions and ceremonies while the new is focused on walking in the Spirit. The old brings condemnation while the new imparts life.
Jesus said that trying to blend the two is like putting a new patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment or pouring new wine into old wine skins that have already been stretched. Both will lead to disappointing outcomes.
I often say that I am not very religious even though I have a very deep and precious relationship with Jesus Christ. My walk with God is not based on religious customs, ceremonies, traditions or a liturgy. It is based on a personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ, the study of the Word of God, very dynamic and inspirational worship and walking in the Spirit. My prayer life is spontaneous and not scripted. I am dependent on the anointing, unction, conviction, promptings and leading of the Holy Spirit.
I do not try to pour the new wine of the Spirit into the old wine skins of religious rituals or ceremonies. I see the church as a living organism and not a mechanical or static organization. I believe God is active, alive, central and dynamic in His church and not passive or distant. By contrast, I believe that mere religion is often an end in itself and seldom connects with God. Being born-again is very different from merely being religious.
Jesus was warning in this text that it is possible to be religious but lost. In their devotion to religious ceremony, both the Pharisees and disciples of John missed the Messiah. They were speaking to the Bride Groom and failed to recognize or celebrate Him… but they were devoutly religious. In fact, both groups were bent on trying to convert and force Jesus into their religious box. They were trying to save the Saviour!
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global