New Wine in Old Bottles

Matthew 9:9-17

THE synoptic Gospels record in detail the call of Matthew the publican and the dinner that followed in his home. The story of his call is brief but sufficient. Our Lord passed by and said, “Follow Me,” and he arose and followed Him. If Jesus had been aiming at popularity, He would never have summoned this despised tax-collector to be one of the twelve. But our Lord saw in him the writer of a Gospel, and present station meant nothing. It is significant that Christ called a busy man.

The call was followed by dinner at Matthews house, where the scribes and Pharisees were offended at His eating with publicans and sinners. He answers with irony. The publicans know they are sick and have availed themselves of the Great Physician; the Pharisees think they have no need of Christ. He declares that He came to call sinners to repentance and not the righteous, not meaning that the Pharisees were righteous but, since they thought themselves so, He did not expect them to welcome Him. It parallels His statement in John 9:39: “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” “The rich He sent empty away.”

Our Lord justifies His action by quoting Hosea 6:6: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” How we need to go and learn experimentally what much of the Word means! How terrible to be a stickler for form and observance and know not that love and mercy without which religion is but a hollow farce!

Then followed the question about feasting and fasting, why John’s disciples fasted and Jesus’ disciples feasted. Our Lord compares Himself and His disciples to a bridal party. When the Bridegroom has gone, it will be time enough to fast. Notice it is the disciples of John who raise this question instigated by the Pharisees; how readily the devil uses any apparent rift among disciples to further his own ends! Our Lord’s skillful answer cast no reproach on John’s disciples, yet vindicated His own.

Then He uses the figure of new cloth on an old garment and new wine in old bottles—skin bottles, of course, being in mind. In other words, the practices of John’s disciples were suited to his teaching and so were those of Christ’s disciples, and any attempt to mix them or graft the practices of one upon the other would be harmful. To patch up the Judaism of John with the new observances of Christ would make a mongrel mixture. The new practices, the greater liberties of Christ’s disciples, befit the new dispensation. Luke adds a peculiar statement (5:39): “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new; for he saith, The old is better.” Do not expect men long accustomed to Judaism to change overnight. We must not expect too sudden a change to new doctrine. Here is a warning to all who have no patience with tradition and want immediate and “straightway” acceptance of new truths. Be patient: in due time the new wine will become old. Nothing is more needful than that we shall be considerate of those who have long cherished another viewpoint. We can be too hasty with them, and we must not demand instantaneous overnight sympathy with new practices. Practice must bring familiarity, and in due time the new wine will taste better.

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