Q. Re: Matt. 9:16-17 I understand the literal meaning of these verses but don’t understand the point Jesus was making in the context of the chapter. Could you shed some light on this please?
A. In the preceding verses John the Baptist’s disciples had asked why the Lord’s disciples didn’t fast the way they did. (John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and had many disciples.)
Matt. 9:16-17 gives us the heart of the Lord’s response,
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
The idea behind these verses is that Jesus didn’t come to “patch up” their religion, or to add something new to it. His purpose was to do something no amount of religious observation had ever been able to do, and that’s to save us from our sins once and for all. It was a whole new thing.
He was using everyday experiences to show the consequences of mixing new with old. He could have said, “You can’t mix faith and works” (verified in Ephes. 2:8-9), and, “You can’t mix grace and the law” (verified in Romans 3:20-24). In other words, you can’t mix the New covenant and the Old covenant. Trying to do so is destructive to both.