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04. Parables of the New and the Old

 

Chapter 4

The Parables of the New and the Old Wine & Wineskins, Cloth & Garments

Matthew 9:14-17

Eric H. H. Chang

Montreal, 1977

 

I would like to share with you this very important passage in Matthew 9:14-17 in the teaching of our Lord Jesus. Its importance is seen by the fact that it is repeated in all the first three Gospels. Let us read this passage together:

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, “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. 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.”

New garment, new wine of a wedding express: Joy

Here we see that some of the disciples of John came to the disciples of the Lord Jesus and said, “Why are we and also the Pharisees fasting, but your disciples don’t fast?” The Lord Jesus replied, “Can the wedding guests be mourning when the bridegroom is with them?”

Fasting expresses mourning for sin. It is also used for spiritual self-discipline against sin, that is, to fight sin in our lives. Fasting is very useful, but not at this time when the Lord Jesus is having fellowship with his disciples. He is saying, “There will be a day when I, the bridegroom will not be physically with my disciples anymore, and they will fast then.”

He goes on to say, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk, new cloth on an old garment to patch it, otherwise, when the new cloth shrinks, it will tear the old one. And you don’t put new wine into the old wineskin, which has lost flexibility, because when new wine ferments, it expands and bursts the old wineskin. You must put new wine in new wineskins, which are soft and expandable, so that when the new wine ferments and expands, everything is fine.” In those days, people did not use bottles but animal skins for storing water and wine.

First, we ask, why is the Lord Jesus suddenly talking about a bride­groom, and the next moment he is talking about a garment and about wine? What has all these got to do with each other? He is using picture language but what is the connection between them? Of course, they have a beautiful connection with each other. I always marvel at his teaching. You see, the two things that cannot be lacking in a wedding are new garment and new wine. You don’t expect the bride or the bridegroom to come into the wedding with an old garment which has a patch here and a patch there. And of course, at every wedding, there is wine which is an expression of joy. Remember at the wedding in Cana, they were running out of wine, and the Lord Jesus performed by God’s power, his first miracle, of turning the water into wine?

God has power to transform and save those who obey

Those of you who have read the book, Revival in Indonesia, will see that God still does such a thing today, when there is a necessity. In the revival in Indonesia, thousands of people came to the Lord God, and after being baptized in the sea, they wanted to have their first communion. Can you imagine having communion for five or six thousand people? You’ll need an enormous amount of bread, even if each person takes only a small piece. But where in Indonesia will they get the red wine that is to represent the blood of Christ? They can’t very well have bread and water.

So they got together to pray to God saying, “Lord, what shall we do?” And one of those who had the prophetic gift among them said, “Fill up the jars with water.” And they prayed over the jars for half an hour or so, and when they poured it out, they found that it was wine! The white water had turned into red wine! And this happened not once, or twice, or three times, but I believe that by the time the report was written, it had happened over ten times! This book was written by a German, who was rather skeptical about all this, as Germans are likely to be. But when he saw these things with his own eyes, he was ashamed of himself and humbled. God performs the same miracle today, as Christ Jesus did.

But what is this lesson of changing water into wine? True, it was to provide the wine for the communion, but the more important lesson is that God is the One who transforms us.

Why does the Lord Jesus speak about new wine and new garment? The fermenting and shrinking processes are used to show us the power of the gospel. The gospel is the power of God to transform and to save everyone who totally obeys.

Human life pictured as garment and wineskin

When you study and don’t understand the Lord Jesus’ teaching, often it is because you don’t understand the Old Testament. The principle is, if you find something you don’t understand, look for it in the Old Testament, and it will be explained to you there. If you don’t understand what the “garment” and the “wineskin” mean, then turn to the Old Testament, and you will find it explained there.

I will give you a few Old Testament references concerning the garment as representing the human life, so that you can study the passage — Isa. 50:9, 51:8, 52:1, 61:10; Ps. 102:26.

We also find the picture of the wineskin as representing the human life. In Job 32:19, the heart of man is pictured as the wineskin: my heart like a wineskin, is stretched to bursting point. In Psalm 119:83, the psalmist says that he is like the wineskin that has been blackened with smoke. In Jeremiah 13:12-13, the people of Jerusalem are compared to wineskins.

A Christian must be changed by God into a new person

In Ephesians 4:22 and Colossians 3:9, Paul says, “Put off the old clothing” which is the old nature, and “put on the new,” that is, put on Christ. In other words, becoming a Christian is not taking your old character and nature and patching it up with some little bit of faith. It means a total change where you totally put off the old and put on the new nature. This is exactly what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 5:15-17, that becoming a Christian is not just adding some religion to your old make-up, but to become a new person.

What is more wonderful? To change water into wine, or to change a sinner into a saint? I think both are wonderful! But I think that changing sinner into saint is more meaningful. And the changing of water into wine is meant to point to that much more meaningful and much more important thing — the changing of the character of our life. If you have experienced the power of God to change your life, you are on the way to knowing Him.

You cannot add some religion to your life

So I say again, becoming a Christian is not adding some religion to your life. You may say, “Well, my life is not quite complete. I feel a little empty. I feel a little hole here and a hole there, so I’ll take some Christianity to patch up the hole.” The Lord Jesus says, “Don’t do that. If you do that, your last state will be worse than your first.” Try it and you will know that these words of the Lord Jesus are true.

These are the people who, when they hear the gospel, take the piece of the gospel that they like and reject what they don’t like. They say, “I like this bit, but I don’t like total commitment. A little bit of religion is good for you but not too much. If you take too much religion you’ll become a fanatic.” I have heard people saying many times, “Going to church once a week is okay, but two times a week is too much!” Or you hear the pastors say, “Do you take everything that pastor says? No, that’s not good!”

The church is full of beggars. Why? If you see a person wearing clothing with patches, what does it make you think of? He is a beggar! People come to church and say, “I like that part; I’ll take that to patch my hole. The other part is too strong for me; I can’t stand it.” And some people are even very proud of their patches. They say that patched jackets and pants are the latest trend that you find in the shops. They are even more expensive than the ones without patches. Once, I asked the salesperson, “How can you sell this “old junk” more expensively than the new clothes?” The reply was, “That’s not “old junk”, that’s new!” So I said, “Why is it all patched up?” He said, “That’s the new style.” Then I said, “Why is it more expensive when it’s all patched up?” He said, “Well, you’ve got to pay for the expensive labor these days. There is much more labor to stitch all these patches together. After stitching them together, you have to tear out each piece of thread by hand to make it look torn.” This world is really upside down! You have to pay more for the rags than for the good clothing. You have to pay for the labor of tearing out your pants. And some people feel dirtier pants look nicer—“dirty is nice”! There are so many Christians in the church today, who are proud of their patchy faith. They even think it looks beautiful!

You cannot take part of the gospel, or it will tear up your life

Well, the Lord Jesus says, “When you want to become a true Christian, don’t try to pick and choose how the gospel can suit your taste, because at the beginning, your patch will look quite nice until the rain comes. What happens when your patch begins to dry? This unshrunken cloth will start shrinking, and it will tear you apart. That is why there are so many casualties in the church. So many people come to the church to pick and choose what they want of the gospel, and in two or three years’ time, they are torn apart and mixed up spiritually.

The Lord Jesus is saying, “You cannot take the salvation I give to you piece by piece. Take it whole or take nothing.” The reason is that there is power in the gospel; there is power even in that small piece of cloth that you took. And that power will be enough to give you great agony in your old nature. You might say, “If I take too much, I’ll become a fanatic. I’ll take this small piece so it can’t hurt me.” That little bit will make these kinds of “one-quarter” or “three-quarter Christians” feel very uncomfort­able before too long. I have seen people who have done this kind of thing, and they are reaping from it. It is very hard to help them by that time. I repeat, the gospel is powerful, and you cannot play around with it.

Again, the Lord Jesus is saying, you cannot take the new wine of the gospel and put it into your old life, because the new wine is powerful; it expands; it will burst apart your whole old life. The gospel will tear your old life to pieces. The old life and the gospel just don’t go together. You cannot live in sin and still believe in the gospel. It doesn’t work. You cannot hope to live a selfish, proud, self-centered life, and still hope to believe in the gospel. They don’t go together. Only if you are prepared to say, “Lord, just change me completely. I put away my sins. I put away my old life,” can you receive the new wine of the gospel.

I hope each one of us can see that when we are preaching the gospel, we are not talking religion; we are speaking about the power of God. I have not asked you to join a religion. I have not asked you to become outwardly pious and holy. What I have said to you is, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. You cannot save yourself, but God can save you. And when you experience His power, you will know what we are talking about.

Only God has power to destroy sin and bring joy

New clothing also symbolizes joy. In China, children and adults all put on new clothing whenever it is Chinese New Year. The children hardly dare to move when they are wearing their new clothes. That is the one time they really behave themselves. Why is it a time of joy? It is the New Year!

Wine is also the picture of joy in the Bible. Just as wine makes the heart cheerful, you will begin to know what it is to have joy when the holy Spirit of God comes into your life.

Before I came to the Lord, I did not understand what was joy. I asked myself every day, “Why is life is so meaningless?” I grew up in the midst of suffering. When I was a little boy, the first thing I could remember was war with Japan in China. Families separated. My father left us to fight the Japanese. There was suffering as we wept to see him go, not knowing whether we would ever see him again, or how long would our separation be. In fact, when he came back five years later, I could not recognize him, because I was too young when he left. I never had much of a family life because there was war all the time.

Hardly was the Japanese war over, we had civil war—the Nation­alists were fighting the Communists. Again, there was suffering. There was not enough food, not enough of everything. Every day, you could see refug­ees on the streets in their suffering. Every day, I could see dead bodies lying around, either killed by the war, or they killed themselves, because they could not stand it anymore. I was brought up in suffering, and if you asked me, “What is joy?” I would be blank. I had no idea what was joy.

One of the deepest impressions in my mind was the time when I stood outside my parents’ apartment, and saw airplanes flying over. I saw the bombs coming down right before my eyes, which killed three thousand people! Three thousand people who had been suffering so much already. Three thousand people who had nothing to do with the war. All they wanted was to live in peace. So if you asked me, “What’s there to be happy about?” I could not answer. What is the meaning of life? Why must we forever kill each other? These wretched people who had hardly enough to eat, had to be bombed to death, be maimed, and be blinded. Was it not hard enough to live as it is?

The first time I understood what caused all this trouble was when I came to understand the gospel, through the grace of God. It was sin that caused man to behave like this. The world will never become better until sin is removed. But sin is so powerful. How can we ever fight against sin? We are all slaves of sin. The leaders of this world are all slaves of sin. How can they ever drag themselves out of the problem of sin? You can sit in the United Nations and discuss the problem of sin forever, but you cannot solve it. There will always be war in this world so long as there is human history. That is why there are robberies, murders, and rapes every day. These sins will go on forever until human beings are saved from sin, until he is changed by the power of God to become a new man. Only God’s power can do it.

God freely gives the joy of salvation

I cannot understand why some people have spread slander, saying that I preach salvation by works. God is my witness. When have I taught such a thing? How can you save yourself from sin by works? There is no way you can do this! No one in his right mind can preach a gospel like that. That would not be the gospel. Only the power of God can save us. And I appeal to every one of you to experience that power of God, the Savior. That is the first step.

Then you will know joy, the joy of the new wine of the gospel that God freely gives to you, because you could never make that wine yourself. Then you will know the joy of the new clothing, the garment of salvation. You can smile in the storm. Why are you afraid? I have nothing to be afraid about, because my God is God of heaven and earth. You will know what is joy. I pray that each of us may know this new wine by experience.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church