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Garments, Wineskins and Wine


Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39


 A Question About Fasting


The disciples of John, along with the Pharisees and their scribes according to Luke, asked Jesus why his disciples did not fast.  One can understand the question since John had taught his disciples to fast and the Pharisees had two regular weekly fasts on Monday and Thursday (compare Luke 18:11-12).  Also, it might be noted that John the Baptist was continually on a diet of locusts and wild honey, which might have been viewed by some as almost a continual fast (Matthew 3:4).


In contrast, the disciples of Jesus were never observed fasting and, on this occasion, they were in the midst of feasting.  It would seem, at least for John's disciples, that the question was an honest one.  Jesus used four parables to answer their question. 


The Friends of the Bridegroom


Among the Jews, it was customary for the groom and his family to hold a feast in association with his wedding (Judges 14:10-11; Matthew 22:1-4; Luke 14:8; John 2:1-11).  The feast would serve as a period of joyous celebration over the impending marital union of the couple.  As long as the bride and groom were present, it would have been totally inappropriate for his friends to fast, since such is often coupled with mourning (2 Samuel 12:15-17).  If the groom were taken away from the feast because of sickness, accident or death, then, they might have fasted, but never while he was with them!


Jesus used the very familiar story of a wedding feast to illustrate the nature of his relationship with his disciples.  He was sent by God to be the groom to a new bride, the church (compare Ephesians 5:22-33).  As long as Jesus was with his disciples bodily, they would not fast.  However, he did indicate there would come a time, after his departure, when his disciples would fast.  It should be noted that Jesus prescribed no specific fast days for those who would be a part of his kingdom, or church, but he did believe they would have occasion for fasting (Matthew 9:14-15).  It would also be good to pause long enough to realize Jesus understood, even at this early date in his ministry, that he would be violently taken away from his disciples and they would have a reason to be sorrowful.

 New Cloth and an Old Garment


Jesus next pictures an individual with a tear in an old garment.  He states that no one would use a new piece of cloth which had never been shrunk to repair such a tear.  If he did, it would shrink during the first washing and make the tear in the old garment much worse than it had been originally. 


It is likely that many of those who followed Jesus thought of him as a reformer of Judaism.  If they understood this illustration, they would have seen he did not come to repair the old garment of Judaism, but to make a new garment.  If the Pharisees' rules about fasting had harmed God's intent for the law of Moses, Jesus did not intend to put new cloth over the hole to repair the garment (Matthew 9:16).


New Wines and Old Wineskins


Similarly, Jesus stated that men did not put new wine into old wineskins.  The reason was obvious to all his listeners.  It was common at the time of Jesus' life on earth for men to store wine in skins, usually the hide of a goat.  If one did put new wine into old wineskins, when the new wine began to ferment, and thereby expand, it would burst the old wineskins and the wine would be lost.  Fresh skins were used because they still retained an elasticity which would allow for expansion of the fermenting wine (Matthew 9:17).


Jesus was clearly saying that it would never do to put the new gospel into the old Jewish law.  The law of Moses would have been torn apart if Christ's law had been inserted in its middle.  There would have been conflict between remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy and commemorating Christ's death on the Lord's day.  Animal sacrifices commanded under Moses' law would have been a waste of time after the death of Christ.  God did not intend for his Son to modify the existing law, but fulfill it, take it out of the way and establish a new covenant with his chosen people (Matthew 5:17-18; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:7-13; 9:15-17).  It was, then, completely proper for Jesus' disciples to ignore the traditional fasts of the Pharisees and rejoice during the time the promised Messiah, or bridegroom, was with them!


Old Wine and New


Finally, Jesus said a man who had tasted old wine would not want to drink new wine.  This may have indicated the Pharisees would not be very receptive to the gospel.  They had been drinking in the old wine of the law of Moses all of their lives.  They had come to enjoy the position of power they had under that system.  Therefore, they would not be receptive to the new ideas presented by God's Spokesman for the last days (Luke 5:39; Hebrews 1:1-4). 



Discussion Questions


1.  What led to John's disciples and the Pharisees asking about fasting?


2.  Compare the traditional wedding feast of Jesus' day to the purpose of fasting.


3.  Why would one not put new cloth over a tear in an old garment?  Explain how this relates to the gospel.


4.  What was Jesus' point in the illustration of new wine in old wineskins?



5.  In your own words, tell the parable of the man who had drunken old wine.  What is the point of this parable?



--Gary Hampton, author, evangelist, and preacher training school director