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“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”” (Matthew 9:14–17, ESV)
When John the Baptist’s disciples question Jesus, He responds to them that it is not possible to mourn when they are with the bridegroom. When a marriage is underway, feasting and celebrating are in order. Marriage is an event that demands happiness and rejoicing, not gloom and sorrow of heart. To mourn at a wedding would be completely inappropriate.
In addition to this, Jesus uses two examples to further illustrate his point. He mentions the idea of sewing a new patch of cloth on an old garment. Obviously when the old garment is washed the new patch will shrink, and this will make an even bigger tear as the patch pulls the surrounding fabric in on itself, or, in other words causes the garment to implode.
Additionally, Christ uses a further example of wine skins. When new wine that is not fully fermented is put into old, stretched-out wineskins, the fermenting wine will continue to release gas from the process of fermentation, and eventually, pressure will build inside the wineskin in such a way that the skin will explode, since it has lost all of its elasticity.
So these are the two examples that Jesus uses to describe his point: implosion and explosion. He is responding to John’s disciples that their old form of religious mourning and grieving, regardless of whether or not it is old forms of Judaism or a new sect within Judaism such as John’s disciples, won’t work when it comes to following Jesus! If you take the Old Covenant forms of worship and religious practice and attempt to join them with the new beauty that is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you’re just going to tear your spiritual life to pieces or blow the whole thing up. Either way, it’s not going to be good!
What Jesus was teaching and doing were such that they could not be contained within the accepted Jewish system; to attempt to confine his followers within the limits of the old religion would invite disaster. This did not mean that he was rejecting the Old Testament; He came to fulfill the law and the prophets, not to reject them (Matthew 5:17). What He rejected was not Scripture, but the current religious practices allegedly based on Scripture as advocated by the Pharisees. He did not even reject those practices all at once and call on his followers to forsake Judaism. But he did reject the suggestion that they should remain confined within the accepted understanding of the old system. His new approach could not fit into those old forms. His followers must find new forms or there would be disaster.1
See Part 1: "What is Fasting?"
To hear or read a full sermon on this passage, click here.
1. [See, for example, Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 1992), pg. 226-227.]↩