Jesus said in Matthew 9:16
“No one puts a piece of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment and the tear is made worse.”
To place this parable in context, we need to back track a bit!
The disciples of John and also the Pharisees lived a lifestyle based on Old Testament Law. This was a long list of things that every Jewish person had to do in order to have a right relationship with God. (The Law was never intended for non-Jews (Gentiles) to keep) Part of that Law, which had become a religious tradition, was to fast one or two days a week. The religious leaders: called Pharisees, had enormous power and felt significantly superior to the common people, they were meant to shepherd the Jews but they had actually become hard taskmasters and extremely legalistic in their style of leading.
The Pharisees reasoned that going a day or so without food, was something to be honored and respected by others and it was! But, fasting with wrong motives is not honoring to God: it is hypocritical: it’s even repugnant to God! This type of fasting had no spiritual sustenance: it had no life because it was not done to glorify God. Although their fast didn’t feed their stomach, it did feed their ego!
Earlier, during the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus had instructed the crowd about the right way to fast. He said: “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Application: Fasting is a private thing between us and God. We are to dress and behave like we normally do so that only God sees our heart motive and we will be rewarded by Him and not by the empty praise of man.
The disciples of John the Baptist were mostly Jews who had been convicted by God of their personal sin. As a sign of this, they were publicly baptized by full immersion in the Jordon River. This custom was called a “Baptism of Repentance.”
Because of Jewish tradition, John’s disciples used to fast. They were still practicing the Law and it was clear that they saw good things in fasting. However, they had seen that Jesus and His disciples didn’t fast and asked Jesus why that was so. He said:
“Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast’” (Matthew 9:14-15).
Jesus called Himself the disciple’s “Bridegroom.” (This must have puzzled them at the time.) He said that because He and His Bride were happy and were enjoying each others company there was no need to fast and be sorrowful. But one day, when He is taken away, then His people will return to fasting. So, Jesus is not saying that fasting will pass away, but He is suggesting that fasting will be done in a different way, with a different attitude.
I have said all this as a lead up to this parable: “No one puts a piece of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment and the tear is made worse” (v.16).
For years, this was a mystery to me. Being ignorant of “sewing principles,” I had no idea that if you tried to use a new un-shrunken piece of cloth, to patch up an old garment, that the patch would soon pull away and the garment would further tear. The same thing happens if you use an old piece of material to patch up a tear on a new garment. The lesson being you can only patch like to like cloth. Otherwise the repair will not last.
How does all this relate to us personally? I only recently discovered what Jesus was talking about here. Naturally, Jesus was not giving the disciple a sewing lesson! He was giving them a much more important lesson. Jesus was talking about the laws of God. You can only add an old principle to an old law. Likewise, you can only add a new principle to a new law. You see, Jesus leaves us clues: the old garment represents the Old Testament Law, based on the Old Covenant. The new garment represents the New Testament Covenant of grace that Jesus established by His substitution death on the cross for us.
We need to dig a bit deeper here: we need to establish the difference between an agreement and a Covenant.
Today, we make all sorts of agreements with people, but an agreement between two or more people can be dissolved, it is not legally binding unless it has been put in writing and signed by both parties. However an agreement becomes a “Covenant” when one of the parties involved is God Himself. Because God must be true to His word, a “Covenant” cannot be dissolved.
The only way God’s old Covenant with His people can be replaced by a new Covenant is if the old one was fully met by God Himself and that is what happened! Jesus, who was God veiled in human flesh totally fulfilled every single part of the old Covenant Law.
Jesus Christ did not inherit Adam’s sin nature because He was conceived not by a natural man, but by the Holy Spirit. He was sinless at birth and he made sure that He lived a sinless life on earth. He then willingly submitted His life to suffer the punishment for sin that should have been allotted to us. He bore the full wrath of God, against all sin once forever! Being God, He was the only One who could do that for us, because He had no sin of His own.
His Father in Heaven stamped His seal of approval and satisfaction, by raising Jesus from the dead. Then the New Testament, the Covenant of Grace, replaced the Old Covenant, Law and the world was forever changed! This new Covenant is no longer based on “our performance” but is instead based on the work of Jesus demonstrated on the cross!
The apostle Paul wrote about these awesome changes in great detail. Every Christian is to study the anointed epistles written in the New Testament so they will fully understand what Jesus has done for us and will be able to live a victorious life.
The written set of laws which were engraved in stone by the finger of God and given to Moses in the Old Testament are known as The Ten Commandments but there are hundreds of other laws in the Old Testament as well. The Law reflected God character and His standard of holiness: it was holy and good, but it was impossible for anyone on earth to keep! (We had all been tainted with a sin nature from Adam) The Law told us what to do, but it had no life: it couldn’t empower us to keep it!
Therefore, why then did God give the Law? He gave it to bring us to our knees and call out to Him that we could never reach His holy standard. To tell Him we need His help – we need a Savior to come and save us from our sinful nature.
The problem was: The Israelites just like us today, compared their standard of holiness to those around them and they became prideful when they saw that in some things their behavior was better than others. We tend to do the same today - we compare ourselves with other people and figure that we are okay and God will accept us like we are. The thing that is wrong about that is: we must only compare our goodness to the holiness of God. He is the only yardstick to use!
No one but God Himself can keep the Law. When the time was right God sent His Son to keep the Law for us. Jesus totally fulfilled every single law so that when we believe in Him we are declared totally righteous before God because when God looks at us, He sees Jesus. He no longer sees us as sinners.
The old garment was faulty: it had a tear in it. In other words the old Law was faulty: it was powerless to change people – it couldn’t fix their sin disease. It could only reveal sin! No one can patch the old tear with a new Law or a new piece of un-shrunken cloth.
The old Law had to be done away with and a brand new system had to come into place. That “system” was “grace” and it would fix up the tear: it would empower people to live a God pleasing life. Going around in life trying to fulfill the Law will tear you to pieces. It will make you a broken person. You will live with guilt, condemnation and shame: you will go from happy to sad every time you do something wrong.
Jesus hates us mixing law and grace. It is an abomination to Him and an insult to the cross! We are never to read the Bible, pray to God, do good works, fast or make sacrifices with any motivation of keeping the old law. This is being “religious”. God detests all work done with a religious mind-set. If your heart motive is not activated by the grace of God then what you consider is good is not good at all! We can’t make ourselves holy only the cross has made us holy. This cuts across human ego and that it what God wants it to do.
It is a whole new system! If you are a Christian, obeying Jesus in everything you do, yet you still have a mindset of the Law, you will have this big burden of shame and guilt. The devil will make sure of this! He will even tell you that you are going to go to Hell because you don’t measure up to God’s standard. If we keep ourselves focused on the Law, we will experience defeat. Scripture tells us that focusing on the Law causes us to sin more! The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
To live under the law is to strengthen sin. The more sin conscious we are, the more sin defeats us and we move out from grace. Focus instead on the One who fulfilled the Law for us. Focus on Jesus Christ.
Why am I saying all of this? It is because I have felt such a failure. Because I want you to be set free. I want you to understand that you cannot live with a set of religious rules in your Christian life. When you open your Bible, it is because you want to meet with God—you want to learn what He is like and how He wants you to have an abundant life and how you can be a co-worker in your “Daddy’s Kingdom Business.”
I really hope that I have been some help to you on this matter. This revelation set me free and I just hope that you will be as blessed as I was.