Matchless Distinctiveness of the Gospel: Mark 2:21-22


21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Dringhouses, York 31st January 2024

In the west, we have largely become unfamiliar with the practice of mending clothes using patches. In most cultures clothes are patched to extend the life of a garment rather than for decorative effect. Nonetheless we all know that some materials are prone to shrink when they get wet or are washed at the wrong temperature, and recognise that if you take an old pair of pre-shrunk jeans patch them with a piece of new cotton fabric, it’s likely that next time you wash your jeans the cotton may shrink and tear away from the denim.A friend of mine enjoyed making his own wine. He bottled the wine in new glass bottles and stored them in a cupboard. The problem is that unless you get the timing right, new wine is likely to continue fermenting. One evening, he came home from work to find that there had been an explosion in the cupboard. The gasses from the fermenting wine had created sufficient pressure to cause the glass bottles to shatter. The fruits of his labours had been reduced to a sticky mess and a pile of broken glass.

It’s important that until the fermentation process is complete, the container in which new wine is stored has a degree of elasticity. In Jesus time, the obvious container was a new wineskin. However, over time, a wineskin would lose its elasticity. If you put new wine in an old wineskin, the result would be a sticky mess.

So, two simple and timeless images – but why did Jesus use them.

The Jewish leaders and Pharisees were dedicated religious people. All of their energy was committed to achieving righteousness before God. They expected others to do the same and all of their teaching was directed towards that goal. It was instructional and detailed. Conform to the rules, not only of the Mosaic Law, but also to the oral traditions of Judaism and you could demonstrate if not prove your own righteousness.  Jesus came along with a very different approach.

‘Jesus knew quite well that he was coming with a message which was startlingly new; and he also knew that his way of life was shatteringly different from that of the orthodox Rabbinic teachers (i).’

He came to introduce something new, not to patch up the old (Wiersbe, p36). To squeeze the Gospel message of divine grace into the existing religious structures would never work. Jesus was not interested in compromising his message to make it acceptable to the established religious order. To do so would be like putting new wine into an old wineskin. You get the point. We need to learn something from that.

John Macarthur describes these verses as representing and affirming the ‘matchless distinctiveness of the Gospel‘. The key point is that Jesus Christ is unique. His power and authority are unmatched in all creation. Christianity is in every sense different from every other religion and every other culture. To water down the message of the gospel in order to make it acceptable to our culture or to other faiths is like patching an old piece of cloth with new, or putting new wine in an old wineskin. It simply won’t work.

‘Salvation is found in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12)

(i)    Barclay, Gospel of Mark, Mark2:21-22 (Kindle Loc1494)

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