I’m not intimately familiar with either wineries or patching old garments, so I had to do a little research on this, but it was very rewarding. Here’s some background on these two topics, and it sheds light on what Jesus was talking about.
Have you ever bought or worn pre-shrunk jeans? Of course, if you wear blue-jeans, then you know that they shrink a bit when you wash them, so you have to take that into consideration when you’re fitting into them at the store. I don’t know if they still do it, but Levi’s used to offer pre-shrunk jeans so that you could tell exactly how they would fit while still in the store. So what do you do if you tear the pants? If they’re just a pair of jeans, then you might be tempted to just sew a patch onto them. The problem is that if the jeans have already shrunk as much as they’re going to, and the patch is newer, then the patch'll shrink and tear away from the pants.
It’s the same issue with wine. As grape-juice ferments, it releases gasses which expand in whatever container the wine is in. People during this time stored wine in goatskins. But if the goatskins were new, and the grape-juice was still releasing the gasses, it'd burst the skins and spill out.
So what’s the point of this story? In both illustrations, you have the same principle: You can’t mix the old and new, because they just don’t go together. You have to pair new garments with new patches, and new wineskins with new grape-juice. But what is the “new” and the “old”? Is Jesus teaching that the Old Covenant is obsolete? What do you think? Do you think that the One who told us that he didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it would turn right around and tell us that the Law is now obsolete? Does that make sense?
No, the Law is not obsolete. Its principles are timeless. But the specific applications of those principles have changed. We don’t have to worry about gleaning in our fields, but we still need to take care of the poor.
But Jesus is the agent of change here. He's brought out a New Covenant, and it is different from the Old one. He brings new life, new beginnings, new hope, and it can’t be contained in the old ways of doing things. If we try to mix the Old and the New covenants, we’re in danger of it all coming apart.
So how do we apply this today? We’re aren’t in a lot of danger of falling into the forms of the Old Covenant—there aren’t a lot of Bible teachers out there who tell us we need to keep kosher or keep the Old Testament laws. If anything, we’re in danger of completely writing the Old Testament off as totally irrelevant. But we're always in danger of falling into the trap of traditionalism. In fact I find it pretty ironic that the generation that supposedly shuns all traditions tends to set up its own traditions and calls it something else.
But just as he did before, Jesus offers a new way. He offers new hope, a new beginning. In fact he promises to make “all things new.” Are you holding onto your old way of doing things, just because it’s comfortable? He wants to make a fresh start with you, right here, right now: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"
Lord Jesus, I don’t want to hold onto anything that doesn’t come straight from you. You're infinitely creative, and you're constantly in the process of re-creating me. Whatever I can do to cooperate, show it to me and give me what I need. Please.