You are here

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

– Chapter 4 –

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

Matthew 9:14–17

Montreal, 1977


I would like to share with you a very important passage, Matthew 9:14–17, taken from the teaching of our Lord Jesus. Its import­ance is seen in the fact that it is found in all of the first three Gospels. Here is Matthew’s account:

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.” (Mt. 9:14–17, ESV)

Jesus the bridegroom brings the joy of the new life

In this account, John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus replied, “Can the wedding guests mourn while the bride­groom is with them?”

Fasting is often carried out to express mourning for sin. It is also done for the purpose of spirit­ual self-discipline against sin, that is, to fight sin in our lives. Fasting has its value and import­ance, but it is not meant for certain occasions as when the Lord Jesus fellowships with his disciples. But he says, “The day will come when I, the bridegroom, will be taken away from my disciples, and they will fast.”

Jesus goes on to say that no one patches a piece of new unshrunk cloth on an old garment, otherwise, when the new cloth shrinks, it will tear away from the old one. And you don’t put new wine into old wineskin that has lost its expand­ability, because when the new wine ferments, it will expand and burst the old wineskin. You pour new wine into new wineskin which is soft and expandable, so that the new wine ferments and expands along with the wineskin. In ancient times, people did not use bottles but animal skin for storing water and wine.

Why does the Lord Jesus talk about a bride­groom, and the next moment about a garment and wine? What is the link between them? He is obviously using picture language, but what is the connection between them? It turns out that they have a beautiful connection to each other. I always marvel at the Lord’s teaching.

These two things — a new garment and new wine — are essential to a wedding. You don’t expect the bride or bride­groom to arrive at their wedding in an old garment with a patch here and a patch there. And there is wine at every wedding as an expression of joy. We recall that the wedding at Cana was running out of wine, so Jesus performed his first miracle by God’s power: turning water into wine.

Those of you who have read the book Revival in Indonesia would know that God still does such things today where there is a necessity. In the revival in Indonesia, thousands of people came to the Lord. After they had been baptized in the sea, they were about to have their first communion. Can you imagine arranging communion for five or six thousand peo­ple? You will need an enormous amount of bread even if each person takes a small piece. And where in Indonesia will they get the red wine that represents the blood of Christ? They can’t have only bread and water, so they got together to pray to God, saying, “Lord, what shall we do?” Then one among them who had the prophetic gift said, “Fill the jars with water,” and they prayed over the jars for half an hour. And when they poured out from the jars, they got wine! The water had turned into red wine! And this happened not just once, or twice, or three times, but I believe ten times by the time the report was written! This book was written by Kurt E. Koch, a German who was at first skep­tical of all this, as Germans are likely to be. But when he saw these things with his own eyes, he felt ashamed and humbled. God performs the same miracles today as Jesus did in his day.

What is the spiritual lesson of water turning into wine? To be sure, it was meant to provide wine for the communion, but the more important message is that God is the One who trans­forms us. Why does Jesus speak about the new wine and the new garment? These two processes — the fermenting and the shrinking — depict the power of the gospel. The gospel is God’s power to transform and to save those who obey Him.

Garment and wineskin are a picture of human life

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

Here I give you a few Old Testament references in which garment represents human life, so that you may understand today’s passage: Isaiah 50:9, 51:8, 52:1, 61:10; Psalm 102:26.

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

Warning: You cannot patch the new with the old

In Ephesians 4:22 and Colossians 3:9, Paul says, “Put off the old self,” which is the old nature, and “put on the new self,” that is, put on the likeness of God. Becoming a Christian is not a matter of taking your old character and nature, and patching it up with a bit of faith. It means a total change in which you remove the old nature and put on the new nature. That is exactly what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:15–17, that becoming a Christian is not just adding some religion to your old makeup, but becoming a new person.

Which is more wonderful, changing water into wine, or changing a sinner into a saint? Both are wonderful but which one is more mean­ingful? I think that changing a sinner into a saint is more meaningful. Changing water into wine is meant to point to something much more meaningful and important: the changing of the character of your life. If you have experienced God’s power to change your life, you are on the path to knowing Him.

I say again that becoming a Christian is not merely adding some religion to your life. You may say to yourself, “My life is incomplete and feels empty. I feel a hole here and a hole there, so I’ll patch them with some Christianity.” Jesus says that if you do that, your last state will be worse than your first. Try it, and you will know that the Lord Jesus is right.

There are people who, when they hear the gospel, accept the part they like and reject the part they don’t like. They would say, “I like this part but not the part about total com­mitment. A little religion is good for you, but not too much. If you take up too much religion, you’ll become a fanatic.” Many times I have heard people say, “Going to church once a week is okay, but twice a week is too much.”

The church is full of beggars. If you see someone wearing clothes with lots of patches, what would you think? That he is a beggar! Yet people come to church and say, “I like that part of the message, so I’ll patch my hole with it. But the other part of the message is too strong for me; I can’t take it.”

Some people are even proud of their patches. Patched jac­kets and especially torn jeans are the latest trend in fashion, and these are more expensive than those without patches. I once asked a salesman, “Why do you sell this old junk more expen­sively than the new clothes?”

He said, “It’s not old junk, it’s new!”

I said, “Why then is it all patched up?”

“That’s the new style.”

“But why is it more expensive when it’s all patched up?”

He said, “You have to pay for the labor. It takes work to stitch the patches together. And after stitching them, you have to tear the fabric by hand to give it a torn look.”

This world is really upside down! You have to pay more for rags than for good clothes. You have to pay extra for the labor of tearing your pants. Some people even feel that dirty pants look nicer! In the same way, some Christians in the church today are proud of their patchy faith. They even think that it looks beautiful!

The new will tear the old

In the teaching of the Lord Jesus, if you want to be a true Christian, don’t pick and choose those parts of the gospel that suit your taste. At first your patch may look nice, but wait till the rain comes. What will happen when your wet patch starts to dry? The unshrunk cloth will start shrinking and tear you apart. That is why there are so many casualties in the church. Many people go to church to pick and choose what they want of the gospel, and in two or three years, they are torn apart and mixed up spiritually.

The Lord Jesus is saying, “You cannot take piece by piece the salvation that I give you. Take everything or take nothing.” There is so much power in the gospel that there is power even in the small piece of cloth you took, powerful enough to cause great agony to your old nature. You may say to yourself, “If I take too much of the gospel, I’ll become a fanatic. So I’ll take a small piece that won’t hurt me.” But before long, that tiny bit will make the “one-quarter” Chris­tian or the “three-quarter” Christian feel uncom­fort­able. I have seen people do this kind of thing, and they are reaping the conse­quences. By then it will be very hard to help them. I repeat, the gospel is powerful, and you cannot play around with it.

The Lord is saying that you cannot take the new wine of the gospel and put it into your old life, because the new wine is powerful. It will expand and burst apart your old life, tearing it to pieces. The old life cannot coexist with the gospel. You can­not live in sin and believe in the gospel. That won’t work. You cannot live a proud, self-centered life, and hope to believe in the gospel. Only when you say, “Lord, change me completely; I will put away my sins and my old life,” can you receive the new wine of the gospel.

I hope that when we preach the gospel, we won’t talk about religion but about the power of God. I am not asking you to join a religion or become holy and pious outwardly. What I am saying is that the gospel is God’s power unto salvation. You cannot save yourself, but God can save you. When you experience His power, you will understand what we have been talking about.

New wine, new garment: Joy in the Holy Spirit

New clothes also symbolize joy. At Chinese New Year, child­ren and adults in China put on new clothes. The children hardly dare to move around when they are wearing their new clothes. That is the one time they behave themselves. And why is it a time of joy? It is the New Year!

Wine is also a picture of joy in the Bible. Just as wine makes the heart cheerful, you have joy when the Holy Spirit of God comes into your life.

Before I came to the Lord, I didn’t understand what joy was. I asked myself every day, “Why is life is so meaningless?” I grew up surrounded by suffering. I still remember from my child­hood in China the war with Japan. Families were sepa­rated. My father left home to fight the Japanese. There was suffering as we wept at his departure, not knowing whether we will see him again, or how long he will be away. 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.

The Sino-Japanese war was hardly over when we had the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. Again there was suffer­ing. There was not enough food, not enough of anything. Every day you could see refugees on the streets in their suffering. Every day, I would see dead bodies lying around, either killed by war, or dead by suicide because they could not take it anymore. I was brought up in suffering, and if you asked me, “What is joy?” I would give you a blank stare. I had no idea what joy was.

One of the deepest impressions on my mind was the time I stood outside my parents’ apartment, and saw airplanes flying over. I saw the bombs coming down right before my eyes, killing three thousand people! Three thousand who had suffer­ed so much already. Three thousand who had nothing to do with the war. All they wanted was to live in peace. So if you had asked me, “What’s there to be happy about?” I wouldn’t be able to answer you. What is the meaning of life? Why must we forever kill each other? These wretched people who had barely enough to eat, were being bombed to death, or were maimed and blinded. Isn’t it hard enough for them to live as it is without the bombing?

Joy: God’s power saves from sin

The first time I understood the ultimate cause of all these troubles was when I came to understand the gospel through God’s grace. 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 free themselves from the problem of sin? You can sit in the United Nations all day and discuss the prob­lems of a sinful world, but you won’t be able to solve them. There will always be war in this world as long as there are human affairs. That is why there are robberies, murders, and rapes being committed every day. These sins will go on forever until humankind is saved from sin and changed by God’s power to become new people. Only God’s power can achieve that.

I don’t understand why some people are spreading slander about me, saying that I preach salvation by works. God is my witness: When have I ever taught such a thing? How can you ever save yourself from sin through 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 God’s power can save us, so I appeal to every one of you to experience the 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 you, because you can never make that wine yourself. Then you will know the joy of the new clothing, the garment of salva­tion. You can smile at the storm. Why are you afraid of the storm? I have nothing to be afraid of because my God is the God of heaven and earth. I pray that each of us may know this joy and experience the new wine.


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church