Matthew 9:16 (NKJV)
16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. See also Mark 2:21, Luke 5:36.
Setting – Jesus was teaching among people who had worshiped God under one system for about 1400 years. Their prescribed worship and behavior had been precisely laid out in commandments and ordinances by God’s great lawgiver, Moses. He had instructed the Hebrews to not only take the commandments into their hearts, but to write them on their clothes, and teach them from generation to generation. They had been instructed that they were God’s special chosen people. They had known of many blessings when they were obedient, and many disasters when they were not obedient. Although they knew that Messiah was coming and would change things, they probably expected that the same methods of worship would continue. If there ever were people who were “set in their ways,” the Jews certainly were!
Context – During the early part of Christ’s ministry he picked “Levi the son of Alphaeus” to follow him, and went into Levi’s house to dine with him. The scribes and Pharisees were upset at his associating with tax collectors and sinners. Apparently at this same event, the disciples of John and some Pharisees came to him and questioned him about his disciples not fasting as they often did. This parable of patching a garment was given as part of the answer immediately after his referring to the bridegroom being taken away (Matt 9:14-16). Then, immediately after that, he gives the parable of the new wine in old wineskins (Matt 9:17).
The great majority of commentators consider both parables to be a contrasting of the old and new covenants. If this view is true (and I believe it is), Jesus was again preparing his disciples for the huge change that was about to come about concerning God’s relationship with his chosen people. Let’s consider some of that coming change.
The Text: Matthew 9:16
16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.
Using an example that they were familiar with, Jesus shows the incompatibility of the old and the new.
- There would be a problem with shrinkage after the garment was washed, causing it to be damaged.
- Since clothing was often difficult to obtain, it could be considered wasteful to use a new piece to repair an old garment.
- If the old garment was repaired in this manner, it would still be old.
- If the old garment continued to be repaired in this manner it would wind up a “hodgepodge” of patches!
The Old Covenant had served it purpose and was not to be “patched up.” At the time of Paul’s writing, in the first century, “…that first covenant… is ready to vanish away.”
Hebrews 8:7-13 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–
9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Christ’s new covenant was not to have laws written down in the format of the Ten Commandments. If God had wanted that for his new people, he certainly could have done it, but he didn’t want to repeat that type of relationship. In these verses we will start to see what kind of worshipers God wanted to find.
John 4:23 (speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well)
23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. (happening already but not yet)
2 Timothy 2:22 (instructions to Timothy)
22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
2 Corinthians 3:3 (Paul contrasting the old and new teachings to the Corinthians)
3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
There was to be a complete change of covenant, and it had been prophesied for a long time.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Matthew 5:17-18 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Galatians 3:19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.
Hebrews 7:18-19 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
Yet, some wanted to return to a “check list mentality” of the old law. These were the Judaizing teachers of the first century. They wanted to “pick and choose” portions of the new to patch into the old. Even today we still have folks who approach the New Testament in a “lawyer like” fashion, seeking to turn selected details into “law.” A commandment under the old law required perfection in adherence.
Hebrews 7:11 Therefore, if perfection (completeness) were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?
Hebrews 10:1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.
But under Christ, one could become “perfect” (complete) Matt 5:48, 19:21. Jesus prayed for this:
John 17:23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
The law produced frustration, bondage and death. It could not be kept perfectly.
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 7:9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
The new garment, the new covenant, brought grace, redemption, salvation, and eternal life. The old covenant could not be “patched up” to accomplish all of that. It could only point forward to “… the perfect law of liberty…” James 1:25
Brent E. Hughes