Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
“Let Me Count the Ways”
Anyone know what famous poem was written by Elizabeth Browning in 1850? I think most people often assume these words were coined by Shakespeare. It’s Elizabeth Browning’s Sonnet 43, and I think we all might know it merely by its first and most memorable line. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”. Have you heard that one before—or at least that line?
It’s a memorable line. When we love someone, or something, we want to put it all on paper and quantify it. We want to see it, in some way, and describe it, quantify it, number it and spell it out.
We might do the same thing when we’re feeling unusually blessed. We might get done with a day, snuggle into bed, and think “man that was an awesome day, let me just recapture it and count—or quantify—all the awesome things that happened today”. Or, maybe we think about our families and feel that way, or our jobs. Whatever the case, when we’re at a sort of loss for words in our loves, our desires, or blessings, I think we often find ourselves saying “let me count the ways”. Or we’ll say “count your blessings!”.
There are places in our Bibles, folks, where we might find God’s blessings to us counted, our listed one by one. When we’re blessed by God—and we truly understand how unfathomably blessed we are—we might find ourselves saying “I wish I could just see God’s blessings listed out, counted out one by one”. There are places in Scripture where we might see this sort of response to God’s rich blessings
I’m thinking of, perhaps, Ephesians 1 where Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians by saying “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. Phew. Paul has infinite blessings on his mind, here, and he wants to capture them. He wants to bless and praise God for them—and so, that’s what he does in Ephesians 1. It’s one of the longest sentences in our Greek New Testaments, and he rambles on to describe the blessings we have in Christ for one incredibly long, awesome sentence full of blessings.
Ephesians 1 is a “let me count the ways” sort of Bible passage for us. “Let me count the ways I’m blessed—count God’s blessings, if they can even be so quantified”. What’s another go-to passage that might be like this? It’s a Psalm, and the Psalm that has inspired a lot of the hymns we sing today both in contemporary music and in our hymnals. Psalm 103, a Psalm of David—
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
Then, of course, as David is trying to not forget all of God’s benefits, he lists some of them—
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Of course, the Psalm continues to list even more. “Let me count the ways”, is a good and natural response to God’s blessings.
Now, here’s the question. Can we count the ways we’re blessed if we’re never told the ways we’re blessed? If God never revealed his blessings to us, would we have any grounds at all to feel or understand that we’re blessed? Of course not.
The Blessings Revealed (Coming to the End of the Farewell Discourse)
Folks, I’ll just say it this way. As we have been walking through this section in John—this farewell discourse in John 13–16—I have been amazed at the way Jesus is talking to his disciples as he’s saying farewell to them in this final night. This is the night of his betrayal, and he is blessing them so richly, so profoundly, they can’t even begin to understand it. It’s all going right over their heads, and frankly I think it often goes over our heads too as we read this section in John.
I’ve felt it myself, and I’ve talked to a number of you who have felt the same way about this section in John. As soon as Jesus starts to speak in John 13 (and he doesn’t stop speaking until the end of chapter 17), it’s easy to think that Jesus starts speaking in odd platitudes that are hard to really be gripped by. He keeps saying a lot of the same things, repeating himself, only perhaps with different words. I’ve heard some of you say that Jesus is a bit esoteric, or extra spiritual in this section, as he’s speaking about the Father and the Helper, and going away. In fact, what does Jesus say in our passage, there in verse 25?
I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.
So, we have right there a recognition that Jesus is speaking in figures of speech, especially which the disciples couldn’t understand. We can, because we now know Jesus was speaking of his death and resurrection, and everything that would come out of that. The disciples missed it all. They were spooked by his strange words of him going away, and by his warnings of upcoming persecutions and martyrdoms.
But folks, again, as we’ve done a deeper dive into this farewell discourse in John 13–16, and especially now that I’ve had time to look back at the things we’ve uncovered over the last week, it seems like Jesus is telling them all the ways they’d be blessed. He’s laying it all down for them, folks—all the stuff Paul mentioned in that glorious sentence in Ephesians 1 is right here. He’s spoken of election (“you did not choose me, I chose you; John 15:16). He’s spoken of adoption into the father’s household (“I’m going to prepare a place for you in my Father’s house”; 14:1–4). He’s spoken of eternal life in Jesus (“because I live, you also will live”, 14:9). He’s given them a theology of suffering and the Holy Spirit, and even revelation as he promised to give them the Spirit to guide them into “all truth”. More broadly, he’s spoken very explicitly of our spiritual union with Christ (think of the vine and branches metaphor in John 15). We’re united with Christ, as a branch unto a vine, and that concept is so fundamental to understanding our faith and salvation.
As we wrap up this farewell discourse in John 16, here, I hope you’re seeing this. I hope you’re seeing that Jesus is giving his disciples the sort of revelation and blessings which might move them to say “let me count the ways”. This is the sort of stuff that inspires Ephesians 1, or Psalm 103.
Now, in our passage this morning, as Jesus is wrapping up this teaching section of this farewell discourse (he’s going to close it up with a long prayer in chapter 17), we only get more blessings. Jesus gets a bit more clear with them, and reveals a bit more to them, about things that he’s already touched on (but it’s none the less glorious and awe-inspiring). Let’s count the ways, folks, as we dig into this passage.
Blessing #1: The Eternal Day
First, let’s look at verse 23, and consider what Jesus is promising to his disciples.
23 In that day…
By the way, by “in that day”, what day is he speaking of? This is looking back to what we considered last week so we need not do a deep dive into it again. Look at the previous verse. Verse 22—"So also you have sorrow now [when I go away and die, and you won’t see me for three days], but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” That day. In “that day” when you see me again, and your hearts will rejoice with joy that will never be taken away from you. That day of eternal joy, the eternal morning glory, is what we’re talking about. It all started with the resurrection, folks. This is a little snippet into eschatology, if you will. The second Jesus rose from the dead, the new day began. Sure, we’ll die—but we won’t die under the curse. We’ll die, as the catechism says, with our souls and our bodies united to Jesus’s death and resurrection. The day has dawned with the dawn of Jesus’s resurrection. So, what Jesus is about to say is already here—and from the disciples’ perspective, it’s only a few days away (but they didn’t know that yet).
We’re members of the new creation that has already dawned. We’re so blessed, folks. Count the ways with me.
Blessing #2: Praying to the Father in Jesus’s Name
In that day you will ask nothing of me.
Now, that seems like an odd thing to say. How is that a blessing? “You won’t ask me nothing”, when that day comes. What’s Jesus mean, here? Different godly people interpret this in subtly different ways, but I think it really comes down to considering what Jesus says next. He’s going to repeat himself in more clear words in the next sentence.
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
So, Jesus isn’t saying “you’ll never ask me anything”, or “you’ll never have need to ask God anything, to pray for anything”. Jesus is saying “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full”—but more specifically, “you won’t need to ask me, because you’ll have the greatest privilege of all. You can ask the Father himself.”
How did Jesus teach his disciples to pray? I bring this up just about every time we speak about prayer, because it’s so fundamental and so amazing. When Jesus taught us to pray, he said “when you pray, say this—‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name’”.
He teaches us not to pray, “Dear Jesus”—which isn’t necessarily wrong, he’ll hear you. But rather, he teaches us to pray “our father”. Go directly to the beneficiary himself, the Father of lights and the great benefactor himself. Go to the Father, through the Son. Jesus says there in verse 23, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”
Oh, the power of Jesus’s name. I always feel an ungodly hesitation to say that because I feel like a southern Baptist or a fiery Pentecostal when I say it from the pulpit. “Oh the power of Jesus’s name”. Seriously, folks, do you understand what we’re talking about? This is the name that makes demons shudder. This is the name through with the world was created, and for whom all things exist. This is the only name by which we can be saved. Peter makes that clear in Acts 4:12, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”. Jesus is it—the only way, the only truth, the only life. That name “Jesus”, rightly confessed and received and understood before God, makes an eternity of difference for one going to heaven or hell, saved and blessed or judged and condemned.
I did a word search, where I can put (quote) “name of Jesus” into this cool Bible search engine that pastors have, and I saw something I’d never seen before. The (quote) “name of Jesus” was all over Acts—that is, the apostles were constantly appealing to the name of Jesus as they were filled with the Spirit and moving Christs’ kingdom forward against the forces of the devil, Roman and Jewish persecutions, and all other obstacles before them.
The name of Jesus is our surety when it comes to all of God’s promises. Second Corinthians 1:20, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” Any promise God made to his people for their protection, salvation, joy, hope, security—it’s all “yes” in the name of Jesus. And yes, this is the means of prayer, folks. What’s the next sentence in that well known 2 Corinthians passage? “All the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
It all cycles back to Jesus, Jesus’s name and salvation, and Jesus bringing us to God. That’s what Jesus himself is saying, and unpacking, in our passage. He’s helping them understand the power of his name, folks, and that his name is a benefit to them. It’s a promotion to them. “You have my name stamped on you, you don’t need to pray to me. You don’t need to ask me anything. You can go directly to the Father!”
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
When did you learn to pray “in Jesus’s name”? That’s how we close all of our prayers, isn’t it? We just read Paul tell us to utter our Amen to God “through him”. We say, “in Jesus’s name, amen”. It’s how we close our prayers. Why do we offer our prayers to God “in Jesus’s name”? I’ve been saying it since I was as young as I can remember, and I certainly didn’t understand it completely then. I just knew it was a powerful name, a revered name, and that Jesus was my savior. That’s all I needed to know, really.
But then I studied the Bible. I went to Bible school, and I quickly learned more about Jesus and Jesus’s name. I quickly discovered there’s a lot more to know. Then, perhaps you’ve had this happen to you too. What happens if you learn about Jesus rightly? You realize there’s even more to know—more blessings, more promises, more grace, more joy. Ever heard the phrase, “the more you know, the less you know”. Doctors say it all the time as they realize we can’t begin to understand the complexities of our bodies. It’s the same with Jesus.
Do you realize that when you say “in Jesus’s name”, you are appealing to a name which secured blessings for you which, at this moment, you don’t even know exist? You’re appealing to a name that is so powerful and so rich with blessings, and so holy, that your mind can’t even create the categories to rightly understand—and it’ll literally take an eternity in glory to scratch the surface of his great name?
You’re also appealing to a name which the Old Testament saints of old appealed to before they knew the name. Ever think of that? Jesus says to his disciples, here in verse 24, “until now you have asked nothing in my name”. That’s not just of his disciples—that’s true for every person who has ever lived up to that point. Nobody up to this point in history has ever said, “Father, forgive my sins in Jesus’s name, amen”. Nobody has ever said that, or any such prayer “in Jesus’s name”. They haven’t been instructed to. Jesus hasn’t told them to. I suppose the closest thing is when Jesus instructed his disciples to cast demons out in his name—but, that’s speaking to demons with the power of Jesus’s name. It’s not speaking to God with the power of Jesus’s name. Up to this point, from what I know of, Jesus’s name has never been brought before the Father in the prayers of his people.
However, at the same time, every prayer that had ever been offered by God’s people was offered “in Jesus’s name”. What other name would suffice, folks? Sure, they didn’t use the name “Jesus” because the name hadn’t been revealed to them. Although what had been revealed to them was entirely in view of God’s purposes in Jesus.
Just think. When the old testament people prayed, how did they make their appeals before God?
Numbers 14:19, “Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love”.
Ps 25:7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!
Ps 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Ps 119:41 Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise;
On and on it goes. The righteous, acceptable prayer was made to God “on account of your steadfast love”. That’s how God’s people made their pleas. God’s “steadfast love” was his covenant faithfulness, his steadfast commitment to his covenant promises. “God, you said you’d be merciful and make a way for your people despite their sin! We don’t understand how, but we know you said you would! Make good on your promise, o God!”
Of course, there’s also Moses’s plea to God on Mount Sinai. Remember that story? Israel had taken all the gold—all the plunder from Egypt—which God had just given them when he brought them out of Egypt. He made them rich on Egyptian spoils. What did they do, as God was making a covenant with them on a burning mountain? They took the gold, melted it, and made idols out of it. They sinned right then, and right there.
So, Moses decides to intercede. Can you imagine being Moses in that situation? What do you appeal to, before God, that he shouldn’t destroy the people right there? He says in Exodus 32, “Turn form your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel [Jacob], your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.”
What did Moses do, there? He appealed to God’s steadfast love—his steadfast commitment to his promises which he had made to Abraham and the patriarchs. “God, you swore by your own name, you can’t go against your promise”. It was a done deal, a signed and sealed deal. God made the promise, and he must fulfill it according to his steadfast love.
So, where do all the promises of God to Israel and the Old Testament people ultimately, in the end, point to? Where do the promises to Abraham and Isaac and Moses and David all point to—these men who appealed to God in prayer “according to your promised word, your steadfast love”? They didn’t know it because it wasn’t revealed to them yet, but we know. “All the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
Folks, we have the greatest name to appeal to in our prayers before God. If God has promised it, and willed it to be, it’ll happen especially as we ask in Jesus’s name. It’s such a great privilege we have as Christians, on this side of the cross. It’s a blessing, as Jesus says in verse 24, “that your joy may be full”. Keep asking, keep praying in Jesus’s name, that your joy may be full. God has promised you the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self control. He has promised your growth and maturity in the faith. He has promised you assurance, insofar as you seek it. “Ask” for it, in his name, “and you’ll receive, that your joy may be full” (verse 24).
Prayer in Jesus’s name is a tool for joy. It’s a weapon against fussing, discontentment, insecurity, sadness and depression, and an oft-neglected weapon for joy. That’s what Jesus seems to be saying, here.
So we have the blessing (1) the new creation “in that day” which came at Jesus’s resurrection; we have (2) prayer in Jesus’s great name. We have the blessing to know (3) those prayers are intended that our “joy may be full”. We also have the blessing, or privilege, to (4) pray directly to the Father. We’ve touched on that a little bit already, but Jesus goes into it more in the next few verses.
Blessing #3: Adopted into the Father’s Family
Look with me, again, at verses 25–28.
John 16:25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.
So there, as Jesus is acknowledging that he has spoken someone cryptically with them during his earthly ministry, he will speak more clearly with them when he returns. After the resurrection, Jesus’s both speaks personally with them before he ascends to glory (Luke 24), although he of course continues to speak clearly to them through the Holy Spirit. So whatever the case, Jesus is promising more clarity later on, after he rises from the dead.
That is, by the way, another blessing we can count in this passage. Jesus gave them clarity concerning the Father’s purposes and salvation. He gave them clarity concerning God—and as he gave them clarity, and moved them to write it all down for us in Scriptures, we also now have the clear scriptures of truth in our hands this morning. We have the Scriptures, we have the Holy Spirit, so we have the truth to guide us. It’s all being at least alluded to, here in these verses.
But we also have access to the Father. Keep reading in verse 26,
26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
What is Jesus talking about in this passage, folks? Verse 26 is odd enough, there. “You will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf”. What’s that mean? Isn’t that Jesus’s job? Isn’t he our advocate, asking the father’s pardon and blessing on our behalf?
There’s no doubt that Jesus is our advocate. He’s our sacrifice, our mediator, that’s why we ask in his name, there in verse 26. Folks, Jesus is pointing out that even though he is the mediator—even though we pray to the Father in his name—that doesn’t mean that the Father is distant from us. That’s the temptation, isn’t it? We’re tempted to think “God the Father is way over there. He’s holy and just. He’s displeased with us. He’s angry, or suspicious of us. Then, we’re over here with all our sin. Jesus stands in the middle to keep the peace.” That’s how we might be tempted to think.
Jesus, in this passage, is giving a resounding “no!” to that sentiment. He’s illustrating that he himself does not need to ask the Father on our behalf because the Father himself loves us. The Father himself is pursuing us, knowing what we need. He’s not just “the Father”, folks. Jesus taught us to pray “our father”—he’s a good father who pursues his children intimately, and knows what they need.
That’s an awesome thing that Jesus says, there. Jesus didn’t simply bring us to God. Jesus brought God the Father to us. His sacrifice freed the Father to pursue us as his children. Verse 27, “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” This is our adoption into God’s family, brothers and sisters.
One of my favorite quotes of all time, which I’ve read from the pulpit often, is J.I. Packer on our adoption. It never gets old to me. “Adoption is the highest privilege of the gospel. The traitor is forgiven, brought in for supper, and given the family name. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.”
That’s the highest privilege we have, brothers and sisters. It shapes the way we understand our prayers, as we say “our father”. It shapes the way we understand our hope, as we hope in an inheritance from our father. Jesus said in this farewell discourse “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”. Our adoption shapes the way we understand our sufferings. We aren’t being punished by a judge, but disciplined by a loving father who wants to make us stronger and wiser. Our adoption shapes the way we understand our freedom and boldness to approach God—like a son to a Father. It even shapes the way we consider God’s regard for us. He regards us as his children, whom he loves and protects and provides for perfectly. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
Count the ways your blessed, folks. There’s a lot to count in this passage. God—sovereign maker of heaven and earth—pursues you as a father pursues his children. Even Jesus himself says “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you…”.
Blessing #4: He Overcame the World
Now, if we were to keep reading in verse 29, we’ll see this odd response from his disciples. It almost comes out of nowhere. Jesus just said earlier in verse 25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech”, and that “the hour is coming” when I won’t. Verse 29, His disciples said,
“Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”
It’s a bit premature, don’t you think? They’re assuming that they suddenly understand what he’s saying. They understand a sliver of what he’s saying, folks. They understand that he’s from God—that’s about it. “Ah, now we get it! You’re from God!”.
Folks, they should be on their faces with awe and gratitude for all the blessings Jesus is promising them, here, if they truly understood.
Most take Jesus’s next words as a rebuke to the disciple’s presumptions. He says in verse 31,
31 Do you now believe?
Here the sarcasm? “Ahhh, now you believe? Now you understand?” He’s rebuking them with sarcasm, folks. Verse 32—
32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.
Jesus just predicted their betrayal, there. “You believe and understand? You sure? The hour is coming when you’ll be so lost and confused that you’ll scatter to your home rather than wait three days for me to rise from the dead with victory. You’ll cower, scatter, and be alone.” That’s what Jesus says. But he continues in verse 32—
Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Folks, Jesus is speaking with awesome confidence, there. He’s not saying “Take heart, I will take over the world.” He’s speaking in the past, perfect tense there. “I have overcome the world”—he’s speaking that way even before he goes to the cross, and rises from the dead. It’s that certain. “All the promises are yes in him”—God’s promises will not fail. He has spoken, he will do it. Jesus won’t be alone. The Father will not abandon him to hades. He will rise with infinite blessings in his hand. “I have overcome the world”, he says, and so he did.
Count the ways, brothers and sisters. This passage is brimming with blessings. You have Jesus’s name working in your favor, as God’s people of faith. You have the blessing of prayer in Jesus’s name. We pray in Jesus’s name for with the promise that our “joy might be full”. We have adoption, the highest blessing and privilege of the gospel. The Father is pursuing you, caring for you, such that the Son need not even ask on your behalf. Then yes, of course, you have reason to take heart when you look at the world of sin and curse crumbling around you. Jesus has overcome it all. It’s all in his control. Count your blessings, brothers and sisters, prayerfully. Let it be a guard against much complaining and fussing and discontentment and sin. Turn it all to gratitude in Jesus’s name.