In this section of scripture the people approach Jesus over fasting. The disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees promoted fasting, but Jesus disciples were not fasting. I have already covered the issue of fasting in an earlier post, which you can read here. So in this post I will focus on the following teaching, which was to do with old and new wineskins.
Jesus taught the people that you cannot put new wine into old wineskins as the skins will burst and the wine and skins will be lost. When wine is first made and stored it goes through a fermentation process. Gases are produced which expand and thus the containers must either be able to withstand this pressure or be flexible enough to expand with the gases produced. Old wineskins have already been through this expansion process when they were first filled and so they are no longer as flexible as new skins. Thus new wine is not put into old wineskins so that neither the skins nor the wine will be lost. The new wine needs to also remain in the skins for a period of time to go through the fermentation and maturing process to age it so it develops its flavour. New wine often does not taste as good as old wine for it has not developed (although I take this on advice from others as I do not drink wine or other alcoholic drinks).
Now Jesus uses this analogy of old and new wineskins to speak about the receiving of the old and new covenants. The people are the wineskins and the covenants are the old and new wine. He shows that it is very difficult to teach a person who is steeped in the old covenant the matters pertaining to the new covenant. In fact the two should not be mixed as they do not exist together and a person trying to live under both covenants at the same time will struggle.
The Old Covenant is based upon bondage under law and condemnation for sin. It also required the keeping of many days, feasts and fasting. But the New Covenant is about freedom from law and release from sin and does not require the keeping of feasts, days and fasts as required under the law, which Paul showed saying, “You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years!” (Galatians 4:10) When the New Covenant came, the Old Covenant is ready to be obsolete as the writer of Hebrews says, “In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:13) And also, “…then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” (Hebrews 10:9)
Paul also shows us that to try to live under both covenants is like living in adultery. He said in Romans 7:1-3 that a married woman cannot live with another man while her first husband is alive or she will be committing adultery. But if the husband dies she can remarry anyone she chooses. Then in the next verse he shows us that this is the same for Christians moving from the old to the New Covenant. He says, “Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4) So we too are set free from the law through the death of Christ so that we can leave the Old Covenant behind and come and belong to the new risen Christ not under the law of the Old Covenant, but under the teachings of Jesus in obedience to the Father under the New Covenant.
For those brought up under the Old Covenant it is very hard to make this change. Paul himself who had the teachings of the Old Covenant deeply ingrained into him as he was a Pharisee showed he had great difficulty in his walk to God in Jesus Christ. He had to account all things of his former life and the teachings he had been taught as garbage because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. (Philippians 3:8)
But as we see in Paul’s case, it is possible that a person brought up in the Old Covenant ways can make the change to the New Covenant. Even though old wineskins may burst when filled with new wine, nothing is impossible for the Lord. He can shore up the old wineskins and make them flexible and receptive to the new teachings of the New Covenant, but even so it will be difficult for a person who is steeped in the old teachings.