The Pharisees had a wrong perspective about Jesus and what He taught. They perceived that He was not up to their standards of holiness because He ate with people they considered sinners. They also believed that they were themselves righteous. Of course, we know that there is no one who is righteous—we all stand before a holy God justly condemned for our sins apart from faith in Christ and His finished work. However, it wasn’t just the Pharisees that did not understand Christ. The disciples of John the Baptist also had a skewed perspective. As we saw the last time we looked at these verses, the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus about fasting. He helped them come to understand that His disciples did not fast because, first of all, it wasn’t time for them to be fasting. Let’s take a look at another reason why His disciples didn’t fast like John’s disciples did.
In verses 16 and 17, Jesus used two illustrations that pretty well everyone in the Middle East would have understood. He told these disciples, in essence, that the new truths He taught didn’t fit with the Jewish religion as they practiced it. In verse 16, he compared the truth of the gospel to a piece of new cloth. Trying to fast as the Pharisees and priests taught while believing the gospel that Christ preached would be like taking that new piece of cloth that was not shrunk and sewing it onto an old coat that had a tear. When the patch shrunk, and it would shrink, it would pull away from the coat and make an even bigger tear. One cannot take the truth of the gospel and pair it with forms of external, man-centered self justification and not expect a problem. The Pharisees and religious leaders taught that it was by keeping the law and ceremonies that a person was made right with God. I don’t think that Jesus is forbidding anyone from fasting but rather he was giving the proper perspective on it. A person cannot be made right with God because they observed some ceremony. Trying to do that is disastrous—it just doesn’t fit.
In like manner, He said trying to take the new wine of the gospel and pour it into the old forms of the religion practiced by the Pharisees would be a complete waste. The truth of the gospel could not be contained by those old forms and customs. The gospel of forgiveness of sins based on faith and repentance could not fit with the doctrine of self-atonement. Because true righteousness is received through faith as a gift it could not be earned through human work. Therefore, the gospel was, and is, incompatible with the attempt that many people, even some of them believers, make to secure their right standing with God by being good. As I had preached to a congregation before, salvation is not about right doing producing right being but rather it is about right being producing right doing.
How sad it is when people try to justify themselves by being religions. It is vain, futile, and ultimately, as Jesus says here, leads to ruin. The gospel that He preached was a pure, life giving gospel that actually saves not a works based gospel that only serves to remind a person that they’re never good enough. We are not good enough to stand before a holy God, but because of the finished work of Christ on Calvary, we are declared righteous. Brothers and sisters, may we rest securely in the finished work of our Lord. As He said from the cross, “It is finished”.