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God Must Defend... Himself?

February 5, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 5:17-30

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

A Fly-Over Passage?
One of the reasons I love the four gospels is that in the gospels, we get to see Jesus in action. We
really get to see Jesus in the gospels, folks—he’s come with a kingdom, and he’s showing us the power
and glory of his kingdom through amazing signs and wonders. He’s healing the sick. He’s opening
the eyes of the blind. He’s turning water into wine. He’s loving the marginalized and social outcasts
of society. He’s perfectly proclaiming God’s word. He’s breaking all the rules, challenging every
authority—and, it’s thrilling.


Although, as we open up to Jesus’s words in John 5 this morning, we might be tempted to read this
and think, “ahh, this is one of those passages in John where Jesus gets philophical, or
theological—he’s talking up there in the clouds of abstracts which are hard to understand. Let’s
move onto the next story”. I was talking with one person about this passage this week, and this
person agreed that sometimes Jesus gets a little wordy—a little philosophical, if you will, especially in
John. So, at the risk of a brain aneurism, we might treat this as a “fly-over” passage.


Do you feel that way, even a little bit, as we open these verses? It’s very theological—very abstract, if
you will. All the comparisons and relations between the Father and the Son can get confusing and
wordy fast.


Really—what is with all this Father-Son talk? Why should we care that the Father has given authority
to the Son? Why should we care that Jesus says “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent
me”? We get a lot of this in John—and, it really shines through in this passage. Is this a fly-over
passage, just to get us through to something that’s more concrete? In fact—in the next chapter,
Jesus feeds five thousand people with fives loaves of bread and two fish. That’s an exciting
story—let’s jump ahead to that story. It’s more concrete, more relatable and captivating, right?


Not so fast. Folks, these difficult verses that we’re looking at in chapter 5 are nothing short of drop-
dead glorious. In fact, I did a little research this week and found that one respected minister spent
three or four weeks unpacking these verses. This is not a fly-over passage. If anything, we’d do well
to slow down in these passages.


These are Jesus’s words—and do you know what he’s talking about? He’s talking about God. He’s
revealing God to us. He’s talking about the perfect fellowship and communion that exists between
God’s persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is about as glorious as you can get. And, it is
exciting. It is concrete. It is relatable. This isn’t philosophical, theological Trinitarian nonsense. This
is concrete, relatable, important stuff.


Remember—there’s a reason he went off on this tangent. When we remember the reason Jesus is
saying these things, that’s when this gets really exciting. That’s when this really gets concrete,
relatable for us. So first, this morning, we’re going to remind ourselves why Jesus is talking this way
in the first place. Here’s a hint—he’s making a defense. The Pharisees got angry with him for
making himself equal with God, there in verse 18, and he didn’t back down. He didn’t deny it. He
said “yeah, that’s right. I’m God, equal with the Father. Let me tell you about that”. It’s brave, it’s
bold—confident and firm. This is exciting! Don’t you love a good story where an innocent man

stands up to his accusers? So again, first, we’ll review that whole story again, real quick—why Jesus
went on this tangent in the first place. Then, we’ll consider what Jesus actually says—what’s the
defense he makes? We’ll close with a few points of application on why it all matters.


Why Did Jesus Go on the Defense?
So, why did Jesus go off on this tangent concerning him and his heavenly Father in the first place?
We read it together—Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath day, and then he gets persecuted for it. Can
you imagine that? We looked at the story last week, but it doesn’t hurt to revisit this. A man had
been a paralytic for 38 years, and this man is at a pool that’s meant for Jewish ceremonial cleansing
outside the temple gate. Jesus sees him, helpless, and he heals the man. At face value, that’s the


Although, Jesus was doing more than just healing someone. He was intentionally healing someone
on the Sabbath. That’s the significance of this story. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, putting the Jews
in a big tizzy. For the Jews, Sabbath was about man’s Sabbath-keeping. It was not about God’s
sabbath-rest. There’s a big difference there, folks.


The Jews made the Sabbath about their traditions, and not about God’s rest. Later, Jesus would
remind us that “the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. God made the Sabbath to
be a blessing—and, if you can’t rejoice when a man is healed from 38 years of paralysis on the
Sabbath, then you’re doing the Sabbath wrong. God’s people are to be a redeemed, joyful people.
When we see someone redeemed—when we see someone enjoy the benefits of Jesus’s in any
capacity whatsoever, we rejoice especially on God’s day of Sabbath rest and redemption. How could
you not rejoice at this sort of thing? What would prevent you from rejoicing in this situation?


Man-made religion, folks—the need to keep our own control, and form our own comforts and
securities. It’s a terrible blinder to God’s truth. It’s a terrible kill-joy. I feel this often in parenting.
When a child comes up to me after drawing a most lovely picture, there is a little something in me that
wants to look at the crayons scattered all over the table rather than the picture. There’s a little
something inside me—the part of me that likes control, and say “you broke the crayons—I just
bought those, and they’re already all broken!”. What a terrible Father! Granted, I keep those
thoughts to myself—but they’re there! That should be the last thing on my mind in that moment, as
my child is showing off his artwork. I should be rejoicing with my son—but, the desire for order,
control, cleanness, ruins it.


Man-made religion is all about control—and with control, comfort. It’s all about meriting the
promises of a clean house—“ah, then I’ll be at peace”. It’s about meriting the promises of a steady
job—“ah, then I’ll be at peace”. These things blind us when we make them an end in themselves.
Life isn’t about crayons. Life isn’t about keeping your perfect job. Life isn’t about your family, your
clean home. Life isn’t about keeping the Sabbath. Free yourself from serving those gods, folks. Yes,
keep a clean home. Yes, work hard and get the job promotion—but, those aren’t what you were
made for.


What were you made for? What are the crayons made for? What is your house made for? What’s the
Sabbath made for? The answer, to all these, is God. God made it all—and, he gave you all these
blessings in order to serve and glorify him! It’s all about him—and, sometimes he calls you to be
happy with a messy home or broken crayons. Look at your child who is growing to love Jesus—see
and recognize the fruit! If you don’t you’ll smolder every ounce of joy in your life and family. When

God heals a man on the Sabbath day, don’t charge him with Sabbath breaking. This is his Sabbath.
It’s a day all about him working his blessings into his people—and, that’s good. This is all about


God—and as we move forward in our passage, we’ll see Jesus giving us just that. He’s giving us a
glorious description of God as Father and Son in perfect union and love, working salvation on our
behalf, even on the Sabbath day


Now, here’s the deal. The Jews understood that God was committed to working his goodness and
salvation on the Sabbath. They understood that the sabbath was to be a blessing. The rabbis of
Jesus’ day had literally made a formal accommodation for God to work on the Sabbath. Isn’t that
something? There are actual records of Jews at this time debating this—“if the Sabbath day is a day
of rest, does that mean God rests too, lest he break his own law?”. It’s a problem! They conclude,
essentially, “well, God can’t stop working, lest the world fall apart. Plus, he must work blessings on
our behalf on the Sabbath, as we go to him for rest on Sabbath. So, he’s the exception.”. That’s
ancient Judaism 101 for you. To work on the Sabbath, and not get in trouble for it, means your


What does Jesus do? He heals on the Sabbath, and tells a man to pick up his mat. He’s literally doing
God’s work on the Sabbath—he’s giving life, rest, joy, peace, on the Sabbath. What do you think
he’s saying about himself? He’s saying that he’s God, folks. He’s saying he’s equal with God—he’s
God in the flesh, doing God’s work on God’s day, and it drove the Jews crazy. Verse 16—“this is
why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath”.


Then, what does Jesus do? Verse 17, “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now,
and I am working.’.


These are fighting words, folks. Jesus is not even close to backing down, here. He’s leaning in. He’s
stirring up more controversy. Quite literally, he’s making a legal defense to his accusers. If you look
in verse 17 there in your ESV pew Bibles, you’ll see the words “Jesus answered them”. The original
Greek, there, uses a grammatical feature which we don’t have in English—so, it’s hard to bring out
without really adding words to clarify in English. Although, that’s what the NIV does, and I think
the NIV is right to do this. Jesus isn’t giving a generic answer, there. The original Greek is calling a
courtroom defense to mind. The Jews had put Jesus on trial—“your breaking the Sabbath! What do
you have to say for yourself?”. The NIV translates verse 17 more precisely, “In his defense, Jesus
said to them”.


Jesus is on the defense, here. “You’re working on the Sabbath, defend yourself!”. Jesus says, in his
defense, “My father is working until now, and I am working.” The Jews got what Jesus was saying.
He was saying he’s God. That’s his defense. He’s God. “You Jews say that only God can work on
the Sabbath, that he might bless his people—and, my defense is that I am God.” It’s quite the
defense, and the Jews understood it from all he was doing and saying. Verse 18—“This 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.”


When God Patiently Defends Himself
Do you hear what these verses are showing us? I mean, really think about this for a minute. God (in
this case, the eternal Son of God, Jesus) is being put on trial by his sinful, arrogant, rebellious
creatures who are blinded by their religion—their need for control. The eternal, infinite God is being
put on trial and he’s not destroying them on the spot. It’s a mercy, folks. That’s what they deserve in that

moment. Jesus could have said, “I just did something only God can do—I gave you a sign to show
you very clearly who I am. I don’t need to defend myself to you. If you won’t receive the sign—this
healing of the paralyzed man on the Sabbath—then to hell with you”. Jesus could have said that.


Instead, he patiently, mercifully, systematically laid out his case. He defended himself. God defended
himself before a short-sighted, prideful people.



Does that not give you hope? Have you ever put God on trial, to put him on the test? Have you ever
argued with his most perfect wisdom? Have you ever questioned his existence—even though he’s
stamped his entire creation with clear revelations of his glory? How are we not completely
destroyed, consumed in his wrath? “Oh, you say you’re God. You’re doing all these cool, powerful
signs that only God can do. Well, I have my demands—prove it, that you’re God! Prove it that
you’re good, that you’re wise and merciful.” Sometimes we think God is cruel, and we charge him
with cruelty.


God is ever on the defense with us, folks, as he’s patiently defending himself before us. You could
think of Job, which we read a snippet from (how God defended his case to Job). You could think of
Jonah, who complained and argued with God. The Israelites grumbled against God—“God, are you
sure you can take on those mighty nations?”. In all these cases, he defends himself with patience.
He’s constantly defending himself—and, that’s a slow, patient mercy. It reminds me of what Paul
says in Romans 2:4, “do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience,
not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”. He defends himself in order
to lead you to repentance. Don’t delay, folks.


So Jesus is patiently defending his case, here in this story. His defense begins with that statement in
verse 17. “My father is working until now, and so am I”. What he means, is—“ever since sin entered
the world and corrupted God’s good and perfect creation, he’s been at work restoring that. So also
am I—and here’s proof. Behold, a lame man walking, resting in God’s salvation which God worked
on the Sabbath.” That’s his first defense.


Although, his defense doesn’t end there. If you haven’t caught on already, this entire
chapter—chapter 5—is one long chapter of God defending his himself. Jesus is defending his deity.
That’s the entirety of chapter 5, here. He shows his deity by healing this man on the Sabbath—as only
God could. Then, he defends his deity. That’s chapter 5 in a nutshell, here.


Now, what does Jesus say? We understand the reason why Jesus said those obscure, Trinitarian
things about himself and the Father. He’s explaining that he really is equal with the Father as the
Jews charged him with saying. Although, what does he actually say about that in those difficult


What Jesus Says (His Defense)
I want to really simplify this all for you, this morning. His defense begins in verse 19. Read with me,
starting again at verse 19, and here how Jesus defends his equality with the Father.


“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees
the Father doing. For whatever the father does, that the son does likewise. 20 For the Father
loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will
he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,

so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all
judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever
does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.


There’s a defense, for you. Jesus is basically saying that he’s not only equal with the Father, but that
he’s in complete union with the Father. Do you see the union, there?


Perfectly United with the Father (verses 19–21)
Look at the second half of verse 19, there— “whatever the Father does, that the son does likewise”.


Do you hear that? This isn’t your standard Father-Son imitation here, folks. This is much
bigger—much more profound than that. “Whatever the Father does, that the son does likewise”.
What sorts of things did the Jews credit to the Father as doing? Think through your Old
Testaments. “Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise”. Well, God the Father created
the universe. “That the Son does likewise”. God the Father called Abraham, and Moses, and he
parted the sea for Israel to walk through, and he met with Israel on Mt. Sinai to give them the law.
“That the Son does likewise”. God the Father he answers prayers, he forgives sins—and yes, he
works on the Sabbath. “That the Son does likewise”. God the Father gives life to the dead—“That
the Son does likewise”. By the way, do you see that one in verse 21? “For as the Father raises the
dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” That the son does likewise.


This is God-stuff, folks. This isn’t a general equality between two equal parties. This isn’t two
basketball players with equal skill, who are rivals with each other. This is union and harmony.


Jesus is saying he and the Father are one—they’re perfectly united such that one can’t do anything
without the other! They are doing the same work. I love how verse 20 elaborates on this. They’re
even doing the same work for the same purpose. Do you see that in verse 20? “The Father loves the Son
and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that
you may marvel”. Why does God do what he does? Why did God the Father send Jesus in the flesh?
“So that you may marvel”. You could translate that word “so you may be astonished, be amazed”.
God the Father intends us to “marvel” at what he’s doing through the work of his Son—and again,
yes, that work involves giving life to dead people. That’s a marvel, is it not?


It’s a marvel when a sinner, dead in their sin, an enemy of God, suddenly becomes aware of their
spiritual death and the stench of their life apart from God. It’s a marvel when they say “the things I
used to love and cling so dearly to are not a stench to me, and I want no more of it—I want only
God and the life he offers me”. There’s a lady at the St. Mary’s rehab program who has been really
enjoying the Bible studies I’ve been leading there every week. To my marvel, this week, I was told
that she recently rejected a packet on “self-forgiveness” which her counselor tried to give her. She
told her counselor, “I don’t need my forgiveness of myself. I need Jesus’s forgiveness”. That’s exactly
what I had just taught her—and, it’s a marvel. Someone who has so much hurt isn’t focused inward
on her pain, or on forgiving herself. She’s focusing upward with a conscience toward God. She’s
awakened to God’s justice, and God’s forgiveness, and she knows she needs it for eternal life. That’s
a marvel, folks.


That’s what this passage is talking about, is it not? Verse 20—the Father will show the Son “greater
things, so you may marvel”—next verse (what are those “greater things”?), “as the Father raises the
dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will”. That’s marvelous, folks!


Jesus—God in the flesh, a human person—raises any dead person whom he wills! In the next part
of our passage, when Jesus says “truly truly” in verse 25, he’s going to elaborate on this. He’s going
to say “an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and
those who hear will live.


Isn’t that marvelous? Christianity, folks, is a religion of raising people from the dead. “The hour is
coming—and is now here”, Jesus says. We’re raised from spiritual death first—then, as Jesus
continues to elaborate, we’ll physically be raised in the last resurrection unto eternal glory. That will
be marvelous, and it’s not something you want to miss out on. We’ll talk more about that in a
moment, when we look more directly at verses 24–29.


For now, just see that in verses 19–23, the Father and the Son are committed to the same work.
They do the same thing—“whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise”. This isn’t a generic
equality between God the Father and Jesus. This is an equality with a deep union in their mutual
work, or operations to create, sustain, and redeem the world. It’s a mutual work to establish God’s
Sabbath-rest and fulfillment over his creation, for his people to enjoy. So, Jesus heals a man on the


This is an amazing defense not of Jesus’s equality with God, but of his deity. He is God, and he’s
giving us profound revelation into who God is. He’s showing us the unity of the Trinity, here.


They’re united in their actions—but, notice how Jesus describes their union in verse 20. There’s
something more to their union, there, than their mutual actions. Whatever the Father does, the son
does likewise (verse 19), then verse 20—“for the Father loves the Son”. Do you hear that? “The
Father loves the Son”. What’s supporting their union? Why do they do the same work together, as
God the Father and God the Son? “For the Father loves the Son”.


This is so incredibly profound, folks. We can get into all kinds of debates about the Trinity, and how
it’s hard to make logical sense. God is one God, in three persons—and those three persons are the
same in substance as one God but yet their three different persons. How does that compute? It’s the
mystery of the Trinity. It’s what the Bible says.


Although, at a more relatable level, what is the Trinity like? What is God like—in the union of the
three persons? He’s love. God loves God—he is love (1 John 4:16). The eternal existence of his
persons and power is an an existence of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Have you ever asked the question, “where does love come from?”, or “how can we know love is
good?”. The answer is all right there, in the Trinity. I often say that God is the only egotist who can
really get away with it. When the persons of the Trinity behold one another, they see the perfection
of all morality, the perfection of all beauty—and, they must love what they see. God must love
himself, as he exists as three-in-one. If God were to put his goodness and power on display, he’d be
putting all that is most lovable on display for all to love and marvel at.


Folks, that’s what our passage is about. This is about the love of God being externalized, to be
shared and marveled at by us. Do you see this? The Father has given his eternally beloved Son—his
eternal perfection of beauty and goodness—to the world, in the flesh, “so that you may marvel” at
the glory of God (verse 20). Yet all the while, God the Son remains perfectly united with the Father.

He does what the Father does, even as he’s united with the Father through an unbreakable,
Trinitarian love.


The Father Gives the Son (verses 24–29)
This isn’t abstract. This is God giving himself—his love—to us. Folks, he sent his son to give his
glory to us in the person of his Son. This is where we get all that language in our passage about the
Father giving things to his Son. Did you catch that?


22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the
Son, just as they honor the Father. (verses 22–23)
As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (verse
And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man (vers 27)
What is Jesus referring to in all this? Clearly, this can’t mean the Father is giving the Son because the
Father is superior to the Son—or that the Father has something the Son doesn’t have. Jesus is
defending his case that he’s equal with the Father—even in perfect union with him! Yet, doesn’t all
this giving mean the Father’s superior?


Folks, we’re talking about God uniquely putting his glory and salvation on display in the person of
Jesus Christ, God in our flesh, so that we may marvel. God the Father is still judging—only, he’s
judging through the Son. He’s putting the Son out in front, for all to see, and the Son is doing the
work in perfect agreement and union with the Son. That’s what these verses are telling us.
Jesus—yes, even a human person, the “son of man” (verse 27), the ancient of days, the Messiah,
God-in-our-flesh, is unmistakably, demonstratively revealing God’s glory to us. He’s revealing his
salvation, his power, his judgment—even through our own flesh. “And the Word became flesh and
dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace
and truth” (John 1:14). I think this is what Jesus was getting at in verse 23 when he said “whoever
does not honor the Son does not honor the father who sent him”. The father gets honor and glory
when the Son gets honor and glory, for the Son is the Father’s honor and glory. He’s the fullest and
greatest revelation of God, as God himself would have it, freely given to us.


The Pressing Application
So, what’s the pressing application? We’ve seen why Jesus needs to defend himself—he’s explaining
why he healed the man on the Sabbath, as only God would be allowed to do. He’s defending his
case that he’s equal with the Father. Then, we’ve seen what Jesus said on the matter. He’s not just
equal, generally. He’s in perfect union with the Father—united in the Father’s work, the Father’s
love—and he’s uniquely sent as the Father’s glory in the flesh so that we may marvel. What are we
going to do about it?


I think verse 24 is where the rubber hits the road for us, here.

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has
eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.


Do you hear the immediacy of that? By simply believing upon him, God reckons you as
justified—declared righteous and acceptable—right now. As such, you’ve passed from death in your
guilt, to life in his grace. The pressing application, folks is to simply receive and believe upon this
revelation which God has put forth before us in his Son. Jesus is saying, here, “I’m God—I’m the
full revelation of his glory and grace and judgment. Whatever verdict you make about me, determines
the verdict I make about you”. It’s that simple. Will you receive and love God as God receives and
loves himself—or, do you think you’re wiser than God? He’s given you his Son to decide, and it’s a
decision of eternal consequences. It’s a life or death decision. He offers you life now—pray to him,
that he’d give it to you. Pray that he’d awaken your soul from death and sinful desires to life and
love in him. And when he does—I love what verse 28 says. “Do not marvel at this.” Don’t you love
that? He’s saying, “I have all authority over life, and offer it to you now—I can change your desires
and awaken you to eternal life now, but don’t marvel at this. The best is yet to come.” Verse
28—“for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those
who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of
judgment”. That’s the resurrection, right there. That’ll be something to marvel at. If you’ve done
good—and, I think by that, he means that if you’ve received him by faith and served him by faith in
his salvation—then you’ll be raised to everlasting glory.


This is God defending God—he’s defending himself, here. He’s telling us about God’s perfect
union in his love, work, and purpose. He’s telling us about his Son—the full revelation of these
things, that we might believe in him and be saved. So, receive his word so that you may marvel.

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