Verse of the Day Devotion Matthew 9:16 

“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.” – Matthew 9:16

The parables we will look at today, the New Patch on Old Garment and of New Wine in old wine skins. These are posted together because their message is the same. Here are the two parables.

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.  Nor do men 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 9:16-17.  These are very powerful parables. They are short ones, only two verses, but they speak volumes about the belief structures then as well as today.

At the beginning of this chapter, Matthew records the healing of a Paralytic followed by Jesus’ calling of Matthew to become a disciple. After these events we read, “Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” Matthew 9:14. These are disciples of John the Baptist, and they ask Jesus why His disciples do not fast. Fasting was a common religious practice in the ancient world. The only fast prescribed in the Law was that on the Day of Atonement, but in New Testament times pious Jews fasted every Monday and Thursday, and they might employ the practice at other solemn times as well. Jesus responds with the following, “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.” Matthew 9:14-15. Jesus here is calling Himself the Bridegroom who is with them.  The attendants/guests refer to Jesus’ followers.  He is telling John’s disciples that while He is here, there is no reason to fast or mourn.  But when He, the bridegroom is removed, then there is reason to fast.

He then gives two illustrations to clarify this idea.  First, our focus verse.  “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.” Matthew 9:16.  The wrong patch, Jesus says, is one of unshrunk cloth which was considerably stronger than cloth that had been worn and used. When there was any strain the patch would not tear, but the garment would, and the patch would take some of the garment (its overlap) with it. And since at some point there would be some strain on the garment, this means that inevitably there would be a bigger split. Instead of mending a bad situation, such patching only makes things worse. 

The second involves new wine in old wineskins. Those storing new wine, which here means wine that is still fermenting, must take care how they store it. They do not put it into old wineskins. Old is the word used above in verse 16 which clearly points to something close to “worn out.” Wine was commonly stored in containers made from the skins of animals. But old skins lose their elasticity; if new wine is stored in such containers, the process of fermentation puts more pressure on the skins than they can sustain, with the result that the skins burst and both wine and skins are lost. Therefore, people put new wine into new wineskins, with the satisfactory result that both are preserved.

These two illustrations effectively make the point that Jesus was not simply bringing in a revised and updated Judaism, or even founding a new sect within Judaism. He was laying out the true concept of Judaism. What He was teaching could not be integrated within the accepted Jewish system. To attempt to confine his followers within the limits of the old religion was not possible based on the truth.  This did not mean that he was rejecting the Old Testament. To the contrary, He says,  “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17. What he repudiated was not Scripture, but the current religious practices allegedly based on Scripture. He did not even repudiate those practices all at once and call on his followers to forsake Judaism. But he did repudiate the suggestion that they should remain confined within the accepted understanding of the old system. His approach was not understood by the Jewish leadership, even though His coming was prophesized throughout their history.

And this is just as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ day.  Theologian Craig Blomberg wrote, “All Christians would do well to reflect on whether their demeanor, life-style, and words convey to others, especially the unsaved, this joy of salvation and the lively presence of Jesus or whether they communicate, even unwittingly, a dour, judgmental attitude that is quicker to point out the wrongs of others. We must also consider, even as the message of the gospel remains unchanged, whether the methods of evangelism, preaching, church growth, music, and worship, once effective in different circumstances, have turned counterproductive and need to be replaced by new methods that will more effectively win and minister to the current generation.” Craig is not saying to replace the old ways, but to include ways that will reach out to all generations. And I will also add that along with joy, we must maintain a reverence toward God that exhibits the love and respect we have for Him. These two ideas do not contradict but work together to show the fulness of our love toward the one who saved us.

William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries. 

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