No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins. Mark 2:21-22
In these verses, Jesus uses two real-life illustrations to make a point. A patch of new cloth cannot be woven together with an old garment that has been in use repeatedly. If someone tries to do so by stitching it, its incompatibility will be visibly known as the new patch tears off the old cloth. The same thing happens when new wine is stored in old wineskins. The wine will tear the old skins, and both are destroyed.
To understand the general principle implied by these verses, we must consider Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God in the Gospels. These two illustrations lie within that context. They convey the truth that the New Covenant that Jesus will inaugurate through His death and resurrection cannot be woven together with the Old Covenant regulations of the Mosaic Law—or the extra-biblical traditions that grew out of it.
The dietary laws, rituals about bodily discharges, circumcision, animal sacrifices, regulations about the Sabbath, festivals, etc do not apply to anyone who has entered into a New Covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. These things are not binding on any non-Jewish person.
Incorporating extra-biblical customs into the New Covenant ends up perverting the gospel. We see this happen in the churches of Galatia, where the Judaizers insisted on Gentiles being circumcised and obeying the regulations of the Mosaic Law to be saved.
Incorporating extra-biblical customs into the New Covenant ends up perverting the gospel
The Pharisees and the disciples of John fasted regularly. But Jesus’ disciples did not. Remember that fasting is a means to seek God. When Jesus was asked why His disciples did not fast, He did not negate the need for His disciples to fast. Instead, He pointed out that He is the bridegroom of Israel—a veiled reference to His deity and identity as the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the betrothed husband of Israel (Hosea 2:16-20).
But since He was with His disciples, there was no need for them to seek His presence through fasting and mourning. But the day would come when He would be taken away from them—a reference to His death, resurrection, and ascension—having fulfilled the requirements needed of the New Covenant. His disciples would seek God’s presence through fasting also as children of God (Acts 13:1-2).
The disciples of John fasted in anticipation of the Messiah of whom John preached. They also fasted on the Day of Atonement once a year. The self-righteous Pharisees fasted twice a week in their zeal to earn favour with God in addition to the fast on the Day of Atonement. They were highly legalistic in their approach to doing deeds of righteousness, including fasting. And they wanted their righteous deeds to be seen by all.
These intentions cannot coexist with those under the New Covenant. Different people fast for various reasons. But the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection changes the what and why of fasting for a believer. We have to consider the gospel implications.
Those of us in Christ—who depend solely on His finished work—practice righteousness in the joy of being declared righteous before God. It is different from an unbeliever who practices them to try to obtain salvation or right standing with God. It is different from a legalist who roots his righteousness in the good deeds that he does. And so, these things cannot coexist.
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