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God Must Defend... Himself? Part 2

February 12, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 5:31-47

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

More of God Defending God
As we look in our Bibles at this week’s passage, it’s fairly obvious that we are jumping into the
middle of a speech that Jesus is giving to the Jews. We looked at the first part last week, and from
last week, you’ll remember that Jesus is not giving any ordinary speech or sermon. He isn’t street
preaching, if you will, on a nice, Sunday afternoon in downtown Jerusalem. Jesus, here, is defending
himself. You might say he’s been put on trial. He has been accused of sin and civil
disobedience—even blasphemy. The charge is very clear, there, in verse 18.


18This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he
breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal
with God.


So, the Jews are accusing him of breaking the Sabbath and blaspheming—and he’s defending his
case that he isn’t blaspheming. He’s standing before prideful, rebellious Jews who want to fight him
and argue with him—and, he’s laying his case before them.


Remember, this whole thing got started when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, there in the first
part of chapter 5. He healed a paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, right outside the temple gates in
Jerusalem. So this is sacred territory, and it was also a sacred day. On the Sabbath day, the Jews were
restricted from all kinds of activities. They created a whole system of Sabbath-keeping laws—even
laws that went far beyond what God told them in the Old Testament Scriptures. To break the
Sabbath was a big deal—and, the only person who was exempt from this rule of not working was
God. God was allowed to work his blessings and restorative grace into his people on the Sabbath
day. Otherwise, all the Jews stopped their labors and abided by a strict set of Sabbath laws.


So, what did Jesus do? Jesus worked God’s blessings into God’s people on the Sabbath. He healed a
man—he restored his cursed legs so that he could walk, and he intentionally did this on the Sabbath.
In doing so, Jesus was communicating that he’s God. He was communicating that God had come to
them to bless them and restore them from their sin and misery, to offer them his eternal sabbath
rest and restoration. He was communicating to them that if they can’t rejoice over that, then they’re
the problem. They’re doing the Sabbath wrong.


When Our Control Kills Our Joy
If you can’t rejoice and humbly repent when you see God’s blessings of healing and forgiveness
directly before your face, then I suggest that your heart is hardened by sin and misery just like these
Jews. These Jews saw Jesus do God’s work on the Sabbath, and they couldn’t rejoice when God
clearly healed the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. They couldn’t rejoice—because, to
rejoice meant they had to renounce control over their life and their laws and customs. To rejoice
meant they had to renounce their pride. “If I rejoice, I have to admit that I was wrong about Jesus. I
have to admit that Jesus is Lord, and not me. I’d have to renounce my control and my expectations,
and humbly sit at Jesus’s feet and receive whatever teaching, whatever conviction, whatever hope he
offers. I have to renounce my own hopes and my own plans.” That’s frightening, isn’t it? Yet, so
many people are robbed of joy—they’re robbed from seeing God’s mercy and grace—because
they’re unwilling to acknowledge the grace of God when it’s standing directly before them. Jesus

reveals God’s sabbath-rest and glory before their faces, and they couldn’t rejoice. They appealed to
their control—their laws. At the bottom of all this is control—an unwillingness to let God be God.
We want control, so we put God on trial. That’s how sin works. “You’re wrong God! I know
better.”. Here, the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy. “He’s making himself equal with God!”, verse


Jesus Defends His Equality with the Father
So, Jesus goes on the defense. He provides them an answer to their charge. Last week, we saw Jesus
open his defense by providing more insight into what it means for him to be equal with the Father.
That’s what he did, there in verses 19–30. He was charged with making himself equal with the
Father, so he basically said “Yes, that’s right, and let me tell you what that means”. Jesus made some
radical claims, there. He claimed (1) to do the same work as the Father. He claimed authority to (2)
judge and save the world. He claimed (3) that he and the Father receive honor and glory together.
Jesus is making some radical claims, here, as a human being. He’s God in the flesh, folks.


So, the next question is this. “Can you prove it, Jesus?”. That’s the real question, isn’t it? That’s
where the real defense comes in. “Can you prove it, Jesus, that you’re equal with the Father in all
these ways?”


If you’re the sort of person who wrestles with God, or puts him on trial, then this passage is for you,
folks. This is Jesus’s answer to you—and if you’re honest, we all put God on the defense at times.
Perhaps we say in frustration, “God, prove to me that you’re worth following. Prove that the
humility and difficulty of Christian repentance and faith is worth it. Prove that I’ll be ok if I let go of
my sin and my control, and hand my life over to you. Prove that you’re the Messiah, equal with the
Father, able to raise the dead to life.” The defense Jesus gives to these Jews in verses 31–46 are
incredibly applicable even to challenges like that, which many of us might have this morning. And in
fact, as we’ll dig in more, I think we’ll see that Jesus isn’t simply giving a defense. In some ways
that’s not what he’s doing. Is God—even Jesus, the Son of God—really defending God, here? Does
God need to defend himself to us? What is Jesus doing, here? He’s judging the Jews. We’ll see what I
mean in a moment, as we unpack this.


Five Witnesses to Jesus’s Defense (and the Jews’ Judgment)
But for now—how does Jesus respond to his accusers? How does he validate his claims? He
provides us with five witnesses which together testify that Jesus can answer “yes” to all those questions.
This is courtroom stuff. If you can provide an external witness to corroborate your claims, then
you’ll be acquitted as true. Jesus provides five witnesses for us to consider.


So, what we’re going to do is look in our passage to answer two questions.

Who Are the five Witnesses?
What Are We to Do About It?


If we can get those questions down, I think we’ll be sitting in a good spot before our Savior and
Lord this morning.


Who Are the Witnesses?

So, who are the five witnesses in our passage? Who—or what—are testifying to Jesus’s union with
the Father, and his work of salvation? Let’s just walk through this passage, and we’ll discover them
as we move along.


Start reading again with me, there in verse 31.

31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.

Now, stop there real quick and simply notice Jesus’s commitment to truth, here. Jesus is making a
legal appeal to witnesses to clear himself of falsehood. He’s not saying that he’s a liar if he doesn’t
have testimonies. If Jesus (who is equal with the Father) says “I am equal with the Father”, then his
statement is true regardless of his witnesses. So, Jesus is saying this in reference to the
courtroom—and, that’s not something to overlook. Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, is taking
time to appeal to witnesses to corroborate his claims, and clear himself before his accusers.


Remember, folks, God makes a big deal out of witnesses—he’s very passionate about clear,
transparent truth. He put “do not bear a false witness” into one of the ten commandments.
External, verifiable witnesses matter in a world full of sin and lies. If someone is going to make a
wild, seemingly unbelievable claim, it better be backed up by witnesses! So, Jesus is appealing to that
principle which God himself put into the 10 commandments—a radical commitment to truth over
falsehood, to corroborating truth from falsehood through witnesses. He’s not an exception to the
rule, here.


“There is Another” (verse 32)
So, in his defense, he says “ 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the
testimony that he bears about me is true.” Some have taken Jesus to make an initial reference to the
Father’s witness, here in verse 32. I think that’s possible—he’s going to refer to his Father’s witness
again in verse 37. So, we’ll consider how the Father testifies to Jesus in a moment. Although, others
look at verse 32 and say that Jesus is leading into verse 33, where he mentions John the Baptist’s
testimony. I think that’s also possible. Personally, I think it could go either way. It’s a tricky verse,
verse 32—“There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony he bears
about me is true”. Is Jesus referring to the Father, or John the Baptist? I can’t say with
confidence—different ministers who I respect have disagreed on this one. Both answers are true
theologically, although I don’t know if we can confidently discern from the grammar or context
which one Jesus is referring to.


Although, I will say this. Notice that Jesus, there, is clearing his conscience. He’s saying “there is
another witness—I’m not speaking this of my own accord, here, and I know this other witness is
true. It’s rock solid.”. It almost sounds like Jesus is appealing to the most sincere witness, there,
which even he relies upon. “I know his witness is true.” He knows it, internally. It almost sounds like
the witness, there, is serving Jesus more than it is serving Jesus’s accusers.


So, this has led many to say Jesus is referring to the Father, there in verse 32. Have you ever
wondered about Jesus’s self-awareness, perhaps as he grew up? How did he—in his
humanity—grow into knowing he’s God and the Messiah? How did the Father, through the Spirit,
lead Jesus to “grow in wisdom and stature”—to become increasingly self-aware of his identity of the


In the previous passage, we saw a glimpse of that even in Jesus’s maturity, during his ministry. He
spoke the Father’s words. He did the Father’s works. How did he know that? Well, the Father,
seems to have testified such things internally, to his soul, and the testimony was unmistakably clear.
It’s actually quite a mystery of how this all worked out. Jesus never ceased to be God—he never
ceased to be self-aware of his divinity. Yet, he emptied himself of his glory, he “grew in wisdom and
stature”, he “gave words” to the people which the Father gave him. The Father, in all of this,
internally testified truth to the Son, for the Son to accomplish his mission. “There is another who
bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony he bears about me is true”. That’s how many
take that verse, in reference to the Father’s testimony. If that’s true, then we might say that all the
other testimonies which Jesus mentions in this passage are actually different testimonies which the
Father is presenting. The Father sent John the Baptist. The Father gave Jesus signs. The Father
provided scriptures and prophets who testify to Jesus. “There is another who bears witness about
me, I know his testimony is true, and let me tell you about his testimony. There are many of them!”.
God, again, defending God. God is testifying to God through many means. He cares about verifying
truth, folks.


John the Baptist Bears Witness
So, that’s verse 32. It could be referring to the Father—I’m somewhat inclined to say it is. Although,
it could be referring to John the Baptist’s testimony which Jesus brings up in verse 33. So, look with
me at verses 33–35.


33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I
receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.


Jesus, here, brings up John the Baptist as a witness to the truth. Although, notice in these verses why
Jesus brings up John the Baptist. He isn’t bringing up John the Baptist’s testimony as the gold-star
testimony. “Not that the testimony that I receive is from man”, verse 32, there. Jesus doesn’t receive
testimony from man. John the Baptist is a man. That alone, right there, might be enough to make me
think that the “true testimony” Jesus is referring to in verse 31 is the Father, not John the Baptist.
Jesus’s testimony isn’t from man. It’s from the Father! Although, if Jesus doesn’t need or receive
man’s testimony, why does he even bring up John the Baptist? What was the point of his ministry?
Look again at verse 34. “I say these things [I bring up John the Baptist] so that you may be saved.”


So, there it is, right? Jesus is bringing up John the Baptist’s witness “so that you may be saved”. He
needs that extra, external witness apart from the Father to save these Jews—except, Jesus just said
he doesn’t receive testimony from man. Don’t you find that statement odd? “I don’t receive
testimony from man, but I bring up man’s testimony so that you may be saved”—what are we to do
with that?


This is an example of Jesus making a general offer of salvation to people whom he knew would not
receive it. This is an example of Jesus appealing to an external witness which offers and proclaims his
salvation, when he knows that only an internal witness from God himself, the Father, will suffice to save
souls. That’s where this is all headed, folks. As Jesus continues to explain these various witnesses, it’s
going to become more and more clear to us that no external evidence or witness will convince
stubborn, hard-hearted sinners to believe in him. John the Baptist’s external witness, as he’s speaking
God’s word into their physical ears, will have no effect on their heart. The only witness to Jesus that
will suffice, to truly convince and persuade stubborn hearts, is a witness that can internally soften

hearts. That’s God the Father, folks. “I don’t receive testimony from man, but I say these things so
that you may be saved”—in other words, “If you have it in you to soften your heart and listen to
John the Baptist’s testimony for salvation, all the more power to you. Although, it’s not going to
work.” Remember, Jesus is appealing to John the Baptist’s testimony to Jews who are currently
rejecting him and accusing him of blasphemy. They’ve already rejected John the Baptist.


Listen to what Jesus says next. He’s not speaking optimistically. Verse 35,

35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.

You were willing to rejoice for a while in his light—but not now. Jesus, here, is making a fairly clear
allusion to Psalm 132, which these Jews would have known quite well. Psalm 132 is a brief Psalm
which declares the glory of Zion, and how the crown glory of Zion—God’s holy city—is God’s
anointed Messiah. When he comes to Zion, God declares, “there I will make a horn to sprout for
David; I have prepared a lamp for my Messiah”—Jesus is saying that the promised lamp is John the
Baptist. He’ll shine a lamp upon the Messiah for everyone to see him and believe upon him. Then,
Psalm 132 continues, “[the Messiah’s] enemies I will clothe with shame, but on him his crown will


So, the light will shine shame upon the Messiah’s enemies, but it will make the Messiah’s crown
shine. Jesus says “you were willing to rejoice for awhile”—but, what happened? Here they are,
accusing the Messiah of blasphemy. They’re the enemies, folks, clothed with shame.


What happened? The short answer is that John’s external testimony wasn’t enough for them. They
needed a greater testimony. The long answer is they stopped rejoicing in the light as soon as the light
turned on them. John the Baptist’s ministry was a ministry of preparation and repentance—“prepare
ye the way of the Lord! Repent and get ready!” That was John the Baptist’s ministry, and all the Jews
were getting excited that the Messiah would come and serve them. They thought he’d come and free
them from Roman opposition—they were repenting and washing up for a revolution against Roman
tyranny. When they discovered that John the Baptist actually intended for them to repent of their
internal sins—their pride, their arrogance toward God, their control—the dance was over.


Jesus’s Works from the Father Bear Witness
So, Jesus appeals to another testimony. We’ve seen John the Baptist’s testimony. That was the first
testimony. Now, look with me at verse 36.


36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father
has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the
Father has sent me.


There’s the second testimony in this passage, and it’s a greater testimony than John’s. Jesus is
referring to “the works the father has given [him] to accomplish”. What works are we talking about?
In the immediate context—healing a paralytic man on the Sabbath, communicating that he’s Lord
over the curse, and Lord over the Sabbath. He’s in control of it all. Although, his works are much
more than this. He forgives sins, and makes people right with God. He casts out demons, to free
people from Satan’s dominion. He offers the sacrifice for sins, to free people from God’s wrath. He
lives a perfect life of righteousness, to offer the same righteousness to his people.


Folks, Jesus wasn’t doing generic miracles. I tried to say this a few weeks ago. When people refer to
miracles, today, they often mean something that defies logic, defies normal experience, defies physics.
“I just can’t make heads or tails of that, it’s a miracle he got out of that car crash unscathed”. That’s
a very uninvolved, distance way to speak of things like that. It’s also how we often regard Jesus’s
miracles. “He was a miracle-worker. He did some cool stuff”, some might say about Jesus today.


The word the New Testament uses is signs. Jesus did signs—meaning, the works he did pointed to
something much greater. The Jews totally understood this, folks. That’s why they always tried to accuse
Jesus on the premise of anything other than the sign. “He broke the Sabbath!”, or “he said he’ll
destroy the temple!”. Almost never do the Jews talk about the miracles, because they were keenly
aware that they were signs from God. “Rabi, we know that you are a teacher from God, for no one
can do these signs that you do unless God is with him”—says Nicodemus the Pharisee, in John 3.


Isn’t this telling, folks? They knew the signs connected Jesus with God, they simply didn’t like it!
They ignored it! That’s the point Jesus is showing us! You rejoiced in John the Baptist’s light—but,
not anymore (not when you discovered what he really testified to). And now, with these more clear
signs of Jesus’s power and authority—the healings and such—they won’t even acknowledge them.
So many people say “God simply hasn’t revealed himself, I can’t believe him or trust him. I need
more witnesses—more evidence”. It’s a lie, and these people know it deep down. God has testified
to his power and grace all over creation. They simply don’t like it. It’s hard to give up control. There
must be a greater, more compelling witness that can soften our hearts.


The Father Bears Witness
Look with me at the next verse, verse 37.

37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have
never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you,
for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.


Who is the next witness to Jesus’s case, here? “The Father who sent me has himself borne witness
about me”. He himself—emphatically—bore witness. Remember, Jesus said “the testimony that I
receive [is not] from man”, verse 34. So, John the Baptist’s testimony is low on the totem pole.
Then, Jesus’s signs are better. Jesus called them, in verse 36, works from the Father. So really, the works
and signs Jesus was doing are from the Father—they are the Father witnessing through the Son, as the
Son calms the stormy seas and heals the blind. The Father is saying “listen to Jesus!”. Although, now
we learn that the Father himself bears witness.


But, look at what verse 37 says. “His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and
you do not have his word abiding in you.” What kind of witness is that?


If I were in a courtroom and appealed to a witness, “your honor! I’m innocent! God himself says
so!”, what do you think the judge might say? “I’ve never heard God’s voice. I’ve never seen him.
Unless I hear and see him, it’s not a sufficient witness.” that’s how this works, isn’t it? Yet, Jesus
seems to be appealing to God the Father as the highest witness in his case!


If you haven’t already caught onto it, there’s something far deeper going on here than Jesus
defending himself. I’d even venture so far to say that Jesus’ is not defending himself, here. He’s not
trying to prove himself and his identity—his union and equality with the Father. Jesus, here, is turning

the prosecution off himself, and onto the Jews. “There is another who bears witness about me, and I
know that the testimony that he bears about me is true”, verse 32. Jesus is saying “The Father bears
witness about me—God does that for me—and he’s born witness through John the Baptist, through
my miracles, and he himself will bear witness about me if you have his word abiding in you!”. That’s
the the indictment, here. “You don’t have God speaking his word, his witness to the truth, abiding
in your heart, so you won’t believe anything you hear or see me doing. You’re a stubborn, hard-
hearted, sinful people.”


Think about verses 38 and 39, there. “You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not
believe the one whom he has sent.” If you had his word abiding in you, you would believe! It’s that
simple—and, hear what that’s implying about God’s word. When it’s testimony is spoken directly to
the heart, it will produce belief. This is our only hope, folks. We are so lost, so depraved and wicked
in our natural rebellion that God could show up in a glory cloud and we’d still rebel and disbelieve.
That literally was Israel. We need new hearts—we need the internal testimony of the Father, as he
speaks it through the Spirit, if we’re ever to believe and be saved.


Now, there’s a lot of application for us there—and, we’ll circle back to this in a moment. Let’s keep
moving through the testimonies. We’ve seen (1) John the Baptist, (2) Jesus’s signs and miracles, and
(3) the Father’s personal testimony. There are two more—and, they work together. Some say there
are four testimonies in this passage, because the fourth and fifth are essentially the same. Let’s keep


The Bible’s (and Moses’s) Testimony
Look at verse 39,

39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is
they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.


This ought to be a terrifying verse, folks. There are thousands of people today who call themselves
Christians because they know a lot about the Bible. They have PhD’s in the Bible. They grew up
going to Sunday School. They study the Bible a lot in their freetime. They even spend time every
morning reading the Bible. They think that by knowing a lot about God, they therefore know God.
Jesus, here, is saying that it’s a worthless, fruitless, vain endeavor if it is not coupled with coming to
him. Rest assured, folks, a Christian who has truly repented of his sin and turned to Jesus open-
handed for forgiveness and salvation knows more about God and his Word than a man with three
Bible PhDs. The man who prays over his Bible for 5 minutes a day knows his Bible infinitely more
than the man who prayerlessly labors over his Bible for 5 hours a day pursuing a Bible Degree.


“You search the Scriptures… yet you refuse to come to me”, Jesus says. Is that convicting to you?
The Bible is not an end in itself. It’s a tool—an inspired, infinitely valuable, God-given tool—which
God uses to bear witness to Jesus. He uses his Spirit to make the words come alive in our souls and
fill us with hope and joy and salvation. Pursue God in the word, folks, and do it prayerfully.


When I was in seminary, I was blessed with godly professors who understood this. One of my
professors made prayer over our readings 2.5% of the course grade. Literally, I’d have to report
whether or not I prayed at least 5 minutes over the week’s course material. To explain why he did
this, my professor always included this quote from B.B. Warfield in his course syllabi—


Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left
leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees
will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your
books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your
knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must
turn from your books in order to turn to God?


That’s absolutely right. When you turn to the Bible, make it about turning to God in prayer. Pray
that the Father would himself bear witness in your heart that his words and his Savior is true,
precious, worth repentance and faith.


Jesus is being hard on these Jews. They made their lives about everything but God. They were all
about pursuing the Sabbath. They were all about pursuing the Scriptures. What they were missing
was their pursuit of God, who alone could reveal truth to their souls.


The scriptures testify to Jesus. That’s the fourth testimony. Of course, the fifth is Moses—who
wrote part of the Scriptures. Verse 45—


45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on
whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he
wrote of me.


Jesus is laying out all his cards, here. He isn’t defending himself. He’s turning the accusation around,
back onto the Jews. All of the ways the Father testified to Jesus ultimately served to reveal their
stubbornness. The Father gave them John the Baptist “so they would believe”, only they didn’t. The
Father gave them Jesus’s signs. The Father gave them Scriptures, and Moses. None of these
convinced them. The only answer, folks, is if the Father mercifully softens your heart, that his word
would abide in you through his Spirit.


What Are We to Do About It?
Now, we have all five testimonies before us—John the Baptist, Jesus’s signs and miracles, the
Father’s testimony, the Scriptures, and Moses. In the end, these Jews rejected them all. What are we
going to do about that, today?


This challenges us to acknowledge that without the Father’s internal testimony on our hearts,
nothing will ever convince us to repent from our sins and love Jesus. We’re that far gone. So, we
must pray to the Father. Pray for yourselves. Pray for one another. Pray for your family members,
your neighbors, your coworkers. Pray the Father would awaken our hearts to understand his word
concerning Jesus for our joy and salvation. Pray the Lord would himself testify in our hearts to Jesus
and his salvation—and as he does, that we’d repent from our sins and believe upon the Savior and
Judge over the world.

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