Have you ever tried to combine something old with something new, and found that it just doesn’t work? An exception might be the steampunk trend, where aficionados will find ways to combine older technology with modern electronics. However, for the rest of us, trying to use an old USB-A charger with a new phone isn’t going to work, or trying to play an 8-track cassette in a modern stereo (which might have a CD player, but possibly not even that). Even getting out an old analog TV and trying to watch broadcast channels without a digital converter is going to lead to a lot of snow.
Let’s face it: that new phone may need a new charger. The new car is likely to leave us with a couple of spare headlight bulbs (for the last car) that we can’t use in it. And, that freezer thermostat that I just bought to fix the old one (before puncturing the coolant line while putting one of the screws back in) isn’t going to do me any good with the new freezer. (Ouch!)
As part of answering a question about fasting, the apostle Matthew records the following statements from Jesus:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:16-17 NIV
Jesus knew that His message and the Kingdom of God that He was introducing to people wasn’t compatible with old ways of thinking. Now, to be clear, the message of God doesn’t change, from the start of time until the end. However, God’s message was revealed in more detail over the centuries, and Jesus provided a number of the pieces that had not previously been shared. Other teachings of Jesus can be found in the previous words of God, but had not been fully appreciated by others around Him.
It was kind of like watching your favorite show in black and white for years, but then finding out that it was recorded and broadcast in color, and it was only your TV that was constrained to black and white. (Or, maybe you just watch content on the Internet. In that case, maybe someone else can come up with another metaphor for you.)
Regardless, what can we learn from these two statements?
For one thing, what Jesus is offering is new. While Jesus attested to the value of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20), He offered something substantially different – and better – than the religious leaders of His day. This was no longer an activity-based religion, where righteousness was practiced only externally, or achieved through doing certain things. Instead, Jesus offered a new relationship with God, where our hearts would be changed and good deeds would be the natural result of our salvation (not the means of it).
In addition, the people couldn’t fit Jesus’ superior message into an “inferior” religion. Jesus wasn’t just teaching His disciples to “be like the Pharisees, but also do some more things”. (By the way, this was pretty common for a rabbi, as I understand it. A teacher in that day might have some variations on other rabbis’ teachings, but still generally stick to the same body of interpretation of the Law of Moses.) Instead, Jesus’ good news was fundamentally different from a practice of sacrifice and ceremonial cleanness. It just wasn’t going to fit into the old mold that people were used to.
In the same way, we should appreciate the distinctiveness and newness of Jesus Christ in our world today. Despite some similarities on the surface, Christianity is fundamentally different from all other beliefs. According to the Bible, there is no list of things that will allow someone to be “good enough” to spend eternity with God. Furthermore, the primary teacher of Christianity (i.e., Jesus Christ) is unique among world beliefs: Jesus is God (not just a messenger). Jesus is still alive (and will be for eternity). And, Jesus is the means of our salvation (not just a teacher about it).
So, we can’t just take a worldly lifestyle or viewpoint, and add Jesus to it. Following Him is simply incompatible with living according to our sinful nature, a fallen world, or other incorrect beliefs that we may have held before learning about Him. We’re going to rip the cloth or burst the wineskins of our lives if we try to fit Him into something incompatible.
In conclusion, Jesus doesn’t ask to be Lord of part of our lives. What He offers is so fundamentally different from a broken world of sin around us that it requires a 100% transformation. Trying to fit another worldview (or even ideas about religion that don’t match what He taught) into our lives at the same time as following Jesus, well, it’s going to tear us apart. Let Him guide all of your decisions, and you will be whole again.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for April 11, 2021
- Christian Standard, Volume CLVI, Number 4, pages 85-86. © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Matthew, by Larry Chouinard. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997, p.167-174.