Parable of the cloth & wineskins

(Luke 5:36-39) He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. {37} And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. {38} No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. {39} And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.'”

Explanation of the parable

If a woman sewed a patch of new cloth on a piece of garment that had been washed, the next time it was washed the patch would then shrink and ruin the whole garment. If new wine was poured into old wineskins, the pressure of the gas from the fermentation would break the old wineskin and the wine would sip out and be lost.

Application of the parable

Do not mix the old covenant with the new covenant.

Jesus’ disciples had just received new teachings from the Lord and they needed to know how to relate that life to the old truths of the Jewish faith. With these illustrations, Christ taught how to relate the old and the new.

Jesus taught that to put new cloth on an old garment would destroy both. To put new wine into old wineskins would also destroy both. To try to mix Law and Grace would effectively destroy both. Jesus is saying some things just cannot be mixed. When God reveals a new thing, He sometimes wants us to totally forget about the old.

(Isa 43:18-19) “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. {19} See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

Jesus’ mission involved a radical break with common religious practices for what he brings is not a patch but a whole new garment. Jesus’ teaching is like fermenting wine that seems to almost have inherent vigor and can not be contained within an old rigid system.

Jesus, during the Last Supper, spoke of a new covenant, which is indeed new and not merely an improved extension of the old.

(Luke 22:20) In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

How is the new covenant different from the old? The new covenant is a once-and-for-all sacrifice of sin while the old covenant requires repeated sacrifice of sins.

When Jesus spoke of the new covenant, He was referring to His blood as shed for the forgiveness of our sins in place of the old covenant which simply uses the blood of animals.

(Mat 26:28) This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The big difference between this blood sacrifice and the one in the old covenant is that it is only offered once for our sins. The old covenant requires repeated sacrifice of sin and shedding of blood before God would forgive the people of their sins. When Christ died for our sins, He paid for its debt and satisfied God’s divine justice completely. There is no need for us to continually offer sacrifices for our sins by punishing ourselves.

Hebrews 10:14 because by one sacrifice he (ie Jesus) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (NIV)

Hebrews 9:28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (NIV)

John 19:30 (NIV) When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

In the parable, Jesus is telling us not to be guilty of mixing the old covenant with the new covenant. The new covenant promises a complete sacrifice for sin at Calvary. We must not mix this new covenant with the old covenant and continue to live our lives as if we need to continually punish ourselves or do works of penance as recompense for our sins.

Do not try to live your new life with your old.

When you invite Jesus into your life, He does not do a partial job of patching up your life. He turns you into a totally new creation.

(2 Cor 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

We must not hinder God’s effort to turn us into a new creation by trying to live our new life alongside our old one. Let us seriously examine our life to see which aspects are not consistent with the life of a Christian. We must get rid of all sins that God brings to our attention. It is no use if we serve God faithfully in church and witness to our friends if we continue to hold on to secret sins in our lives. Like the parable, the inconsistency will eat us up. The new cloth will cut a hold in the old garment. As we try to read the Bible but continue to hold on to sin, the new life will eat us up and make us more and more guilty.

Somebody once said that a Christian who has sin in his life is the most miserable person possible. A Christian who lives his life right is walking in the joy of his salvation. A non-Christian who continually sin may not be as miserable as he is not living his life inconsistently. There is no inner voice to make him guilty. But a Christian who deliberately holds on to sin has so much inconsistency in him that he becomes so miserable. Paul tells us of this misery when he writes :

(Rom 7:18-24) I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. {19} For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. {20} Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. {21} So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. {22} For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; {23} but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. {24} What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Let’s heed to Jesus’ warning in this parable. Do not let the new cloth tear us up by our not letting go of the old cloth. Let’s determine to rid our lives of all sin, as God points them out to us, so that we can live a joyful Christian life.

Do not reject something just because it is new.

Jesus that a person who has drank old wine is hesitant on drinking new wine. Some churches today refuse anything new and as a consequence lack the joy and power that God has intended for them.

It is natural for humans to want the status quo. Changes create stress. When a new development comes about, it is easier to reject it. If the church wants to accept it, it will have to study the Bible in detail to see if the new movement is Biblical, study the movement itself to see if it is Biblical, convince the church members to accept it. All this is work. Yet we cannot afford to be hesitant of something just because it is new. Jesus warned us of this in the parable.

The Bible tells us that in the last days we can expect great and new things from God.

(Acts 2:17) “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

In the last days, there will be an explosion of these spiritual manifestations. Many people will prophesy, see visions and dream dreams. But many churches are hesitant in accepting such “supernatural” gifts because they are often regarded as subjective.

It is true such revelations are subjective. When a church member tells us that God spoke to him in a dream or vision, when he prophesies in church, how do we know whether it is from God or the devil or his own imagination? We cannot know for sure. I agree that going to the Bible for revelation is the most objective and sure-proof method. Yet these revelations serve its purpose. The Bible is a collection of thousands of verses. God may choose to speak to us in a particular verse which is suitable for a specific time and situation. This is when he may cause someone to prophesy. Yet at times God may want to encourage Christians as to what the outcome of a particular situation would be if they were to persevere. This is when He may choose to give special revelations in dreams and visions. Are we to reject something just because it is subjective? Definitely not when it comes to prophesy, dreams and visions. Because rejecting them would be rejecting God’s word in Acts 2:17.

But how do we solve the problem of whether the revelation is from God or from the devil? We cannot know for sure but we can surely test it with some general principles.

The first way would be to go back to the Bible. Is this new thing Biblical? Is the new revelation Biblical and simply stating God’s word in a different way or is it contradicting God’s clearly stated word in the Scriptures? Anything that contradicts the Bible cannot be from God because God cannot contradict Himself.

(Acts 17:11) Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

The second way would be to judge the fruits of the new movement. Several years ago I saw a video clip of the worship service of the cult movement led by Jim Jones. There are healings in Jesus’ name. No one watching the video would ever suspect that the movement is a cult movement. Yet we know that Jim Jones led his followers to a mass suicide. In this case one finds out too late. Yet the principle holds true. A movement that is good cannot continue to do damage to God’s kingdom.

(Mat 7:17-18) Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

A movement that produces much fruit for God’s kingdom on a prolonged basis is usually not a tool of the devil. The devil has absolutely no reason for creating a tool that enhances God’s kingdom.

(Mat 12:25-26) Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. {26} If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

It is difficult to insist on someone accepting new things immediately.

In verse 39, Jesus emphasized that people tend to want the old and reject the new, assuming that the old is better. It is difficult to convince someone to accept new things, not to mention convincing them to accept them immediately. This principle is helpful when we are dealing with new Christians. When a person first becomes a Christian, he is told of the many things that are expected of him. Yet we should give the new Christian time to grow up. No newborn baby starts talking and running immediately. In a similar way, we cannot expect a new Christian to have the motivation to immediately go for overnight prayer meetings, street evangelism or fasting. All these require commitment that comes with spiritual maturity. Let’s give them time to grow.