Discourse given at 1976 General Convention
by Brother Edward Fay, San Francisco

“I Have Set the LORD Always Before Me”

“Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee [my happiness is not without thee, Septuagint]; but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will 1 not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, t shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: In thy presence is fullness of Joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” —Psalm 16

THIS prophetic psalm concerns Jesus, and describes his heart attitude while he walked as a man upon the earth, as expressed centuries before by the psalmist, David: “Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.” (Ps. 16:1) Our Lord, throughout his first advent, knew well that without God’s care, God’s guidance, God’s protection, he would be unable to resist the snares of the Adversary or to reach his goal—which was to be part of God’s family on the highest plane of existence. The Revised Version states it this way: “I say to the Lord, thou art my Lord. I have no good apart from thee. As for the saints in the land, they are the noble in whom is all my delight.”—vss. 2,3

We know this beautiful chapter is prophetic because the Apostle Peter quoted it in the second chapter of Acts, verses 25 through 28, and Paul referred to it in one of his sermons. (Acts 13:32-37) In each instance they showed that David was not speaking of himself, but spoke of the resurrection of our Lord. (Acts 2:31) And so we have the proper and inspired authority to attribute these words to Jesus, and to know that they expressed his hopes and heartfelt feelings.

In our theme text, “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved,” the word moved is from the Hebrew word ‘mowt’. This word means ‘to waver, slip, or to fall’. What it is saying prophetically of Jesus is, “Because I put the Lord always before me—because he is at my right hand—I shall not waver, or slip, or fall.” This is a very important statement, because it contains information concerning one of God’s sacred secrets. And only the true disciples of Christ know those sacred secrets—those who have been begotten by God’s Holy Spirit. One of these sacred secrets has been revealed in this verse. It is that our Lord could have wavered, or slipped, or fallen. It was possible that he could have failed his mission. We know that Jesus had to perform perfectly, fulfilling the will of his Heavenly Father completely in every detail, in order, at the end of his course, to receive a resurrection from the dead.

Our theme text explains how our Lord Jesus was able to accomplish his goal during his earthly walk. It was because he ‘set’ God before him. Jesus was keenly aware of his Father’s plans and purposes as they concerned himself, through his intense study and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures from childhood to manhood, and later, after his baptism, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. To have God at his right hand was to have the power of the Almighty at his immediate beck and call for aid and advice, for encouragement and enlightenment. Jesus had a complete understanding of God’s plan and his relationship to the Father in that plan, as well as his dependence upon the Father’s instructions and power to perform what he proposed.

The Scriptures indicate that our Lord Jesus did not know the details of God’s plan for himself until the time of his consecration to God, and acceptance by him, through the administration of the Spirit. He was born into the world as a babe and received his first knowledge of God through his senses, as we all do. No doubt he was instructed in God’s Word by his mother, and by his step-father, Joseph, who were faithful and devout Israelites, and through his participation at the synagogue. Because of his brilliant, perfect mind he amassed information much more quickly than the average child. But still it was not until just after his begettal by the Spirit that he knew the particulars concerning how his Father wished him to begin, and to carry out his mission to a successful conclusion.

Many Scriptures, including the 40th Psalm, were prophetic of our Lord and his earthly ministry. “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.” (vs. 6) To paraphrase this scripture, we might say, “I realize that you, dear Father, were not satisfied with the blood of bulls and goats (Lev. 16); they were merely pictures indicating the fact that, first, my perfect life must be poured out and presented to you as a corresponding price in place of Adam, in order that men might gain life.”

Evidently it was at this time, also, that Jesus learned about his pre-human existence. (Prov. 8:22-31) He became aware from the Scriptures that he, God’s only begotten Son, had been transferred from the courts of heaven to the womb of Mary for the very purpose of laying down his life in sacrifice. (Luke 1:35; 2:25-35) Not until this point in his earthly existence did he fully realize his relationship to God’s plan and the fact that he would die as Adam’s ransom price.

With majestic delight Jesus, as he rose up out of the water after his baptism by John, heard his Father’s voice speaking to him from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” Probably this wonderful assurance of God’s favor and love was the first audible manifestation he had ever had! What a soul-satisfying and reassuring experience this must have been for Jesus, as he took the first step of his journey in ministering for three and one-half long years!

At the same time, another amazing factor became clear to him. He learned not only that he had to die in Adam’s place, but for the first time he realized that he would have a heavenly resurrection as a divine being—raised to the spirit realm on his Heavenly Father’s own plane of existence! God’s Holy Word became plain to him on this subject as well—wonderful things that he had never understood so fully before!

One scripture that certainly must have come to Jesus’ mind, spoke of his death and resurrection in a very interesting way. God said, I will “divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” (Isa. 53:12) Here again another new thought is introduced concerning the fact that he would have a “church” which would be “his body.” They would be ‘the strong’ spoken of in this prophecy, with whom he would divide his ‘spoil’. These are figurative expressions which indicate that there would be great rewards attached not only to his own faithfulness, but to the faithfulness of his followers, then and in the future—down through the Gospel Age.

At the point in time when he learned that he must die as the ransom price, he also learned that there were conditions attached to his being awakened to the divine nature. He must be faithful even until his death upon the cross. (John 19:30) This is brought out to us in a particularly meaningful way by a typical picture: “He shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not.”—Lev. 16:13

How does this type indicate that it was necessary for Jesus to obey God faithfully in order to receive the promise of immortal life? We realize that when the High Priest went into the Holy with both hands filled with incense, beaten small, and sprinkled it over the fire on the Golden Altar, that it was representative of our Lord Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. Two handfuls of incense was all the priest could hold, and it represented Jesus’ complete and perfect offering of his entire being. When the High Priest poured it over the coals of fire it caused a cloud of incense to fill the room—a sweet smell or savor—which filtered under, over, and through the second veil, into the Most Holy. Only then the High Priest could enter into the Most Holy and not die. If the incense, indicating God’s acceptance of the sacrifice on the brazen altar, did not precede him, the High Priest would die as he tried to enter the Most Holy. What a beautiful and significant picture.

Jesus knew at the time of his enlightenment, through his understanding of God’s plan, that the Father would select his every experience, and that he had to meet each one perfectly. If he succeeded in this difficult walk, he would be awakened not only on the spirit plane, but on God’s own plane of existence. We can better appreciate how the incense illustrates this point from the words of the Apostle Paul, who must have been thinking of this picture when he said: “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.”—Eph. 5:1,2

We, dear brethren, who have knowledge of the sacred secrets, must realize that we understand them for only one reason—that we are part of the body of Christ, and as such we must lay down our lives in sacrifice as Jesus did. We have been invited to this calling, and our minds have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. How else could we realize that our Lord had to walk perfectly to receive an awakening on the spirit plane? He was on trial. This is one of the sacred secrets of God which only his people know. And we understand the same requirements also apply to us. Every lesson which Jesus learned and which was necessary instruction for him, is applicable and necessary also to his body, the church. He learned the will of God for himself, and how to perform it, and so must we.

We know that the Lord selects our experiences for us, and each one, if met properly, will develop us further to be an acceptable part of the body of Christ, and to receive a spiritual awakening on the divine plane. We read in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For, whom he did foreknow [the church], he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

The awareness of God’s overruling of each and every situation in our lives, both temporal and spiritual, should give us an attitude of mind in which we do not fret or worry about our experiences which are unpleasant, trying, or difficult. We should learn to accept them as did our Lord Jesus. He knew he had to suffer and die in the place of Adam. But he was ready to yield himself to God’s will in every matter in the way which he had been instructed through the Old Testament.

As soon as Jesus had been baptized by John in the Jordan, and after the forty days of temptation in the wilderness had successfully been endured, he “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.” (Luke 4:14,15) We read next that he went back to the town from which he had come, Nazareth. The people there had heard about his ministry, of all the marvelous things he had done elsewhere—healing the sick, opening blind eyes, unstopping deaf ears, and loosening the tongues of the dumb. He arrived in Nazareth, “where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”

The scripture reading which our Lord chose to use that day is of particular interest to us, because it contains an implication of another sacred secret of God. Jesus stood in the center of the synagogue, “and there was delivered unto him the Book of the Prophet Esaias. [Isa. 61:1-3] And when he had opened the Book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he bath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that arc bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the Book.”

That phrase, “he closed the Book,” indicates to us that our Lord knew that the Messiah was not himself alone. There would be no reason to ‘preach the acceptable year of the Lord’ if Jesus alone comprised the Messiah. But he knew that he and his body members, the church class, would share that distinction and honor, and that it was the acceptable year of the Lord to offer this wonderful and noble calling to those with hearing ears and seeing eyes. (Matt. 13:16) And he knew his anointing would be passed on to them, as we read in I John 2:27, “The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you.”

When Jesus ‘closed the Book’, in essence he was saying, “I stopped reading here because the prophetic utterance which follows is for the remainder of my body to accomplish at a later time during the Gospel Age. I will not read beyond this point because I, personally, have not been anointed to fulfill this portion of the prophecy. That which follows is left for my disciples during the harvest time to fulfill.” The next words which Jesus omitted, were, “to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

Thus, by the exclusion of these portions of the prophecy in his statement to the people of Nazareth he implied that later on, the rest of the prophecy would be fulfilled. And because we are living at the end of the age when the time has come to proclaim the remainder of the message, we have revealed another sacred secret that is meaningful to us. We are among the anointed whom God has chosen to proclaim a message for our time! Let us faithfully perform our mission, as Jesus fulfilled his.

As Jesus continued his ministry, he performed many miracles to attract the attention of those who were to become his disciples, making them realize that the Messiah was in their midst. The record of the first miracle that he executed is found in John 2:11. We read, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” In other words, Jesus, through the healing of the sick and infirm, casting out devils, and even raising the dead, gave samples of the much more magnificent and all-comprehensive work of glory which will be exhibited by the Messiah when complete, and established in office upon the earth. He did these things to show forth to those who thought the kingdom would be established during their time, that he was indeed the Messiah. These miracles were merely examples or samples of the true work of the Messiah, in its entirety, when the church is complete and the Messianic reign begins. The true work will affect each and every human being on earth, the raising of the dead, and the restoration of every person to full health, happiness, righteousness, and life.

After Jesus’ resurrection, when he appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, he began to speak as a stranger to them about the prophecies of God. (Luke 24:26) He asked them, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and [then] to enter into his glory?” The Messiah, not Jesus only, but the entire Messiah class, must finish its suffering; then the glory phase will follow—the blessing of all the families of the earth, in the most complete and lasting sense. (Gen. 12:3; 22:18) But to Jesus’ early disciples, who thought the kingdom would be established in their day and that the Messiah would be a man exhibiting qualities of outstanding leadership and power, as well as possessing authority and favor of God, these miracles identified him unmistakably as such.

One of the ways in which Jesus ‘set the Father always before him’ was through his prayer life. We have an account which brings out this point, when he healed so many in the city, including Peter’s mother-in-law. Mark 1:34 reads, “He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.” Then it says they were all asleep that night, probably in some tiny, little room. His disciples were sleeping on the floor, when one awoke and saw Jesus arising very early. The Lord got up very quietly and went out of the room, and some of the disciples also arose, to follow him. Where had he gone? Following at a little distance, they found that Jesus had kneeled and was deep in prayer. No doubt he was thanking the Father for the miracles he had performed the night before. He humbly recognized and acknowledged that this was the power of God. It was only because God was at his right hand that he could carry out these wonderful miracles.

The scriptural account continues, “And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee. And he said unto them, Let us go into the next town, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.” (Mark 1:35-38) He said, in other words, “I have been commissioned to preach the Gospel. These miracles I performed are simply to show forth the glory of the Messiah in the next age, and to identify myself to those whom God is calling to be my disciples. Let us get on with this work, for it is an enormous one, and a very important one.”

This is brought out clearly in the record concerning John the Baptist, who had been cast into prison by the evil ruler, becoming concerned whether or not Jesus was truly the Messiah. He sensed that he himself was going to be put to death. This seemed out of keeping with what he expected to happen when the Messiah appeared to Israel. The righteous should not be destroyed when Messiah’s rule was established.

John knew from his father, Zacharias, and his mother, Elizabeth, that Jesus was the Messiah. He knew that the angel, Gabriel, told this sacred secret to his mother’s cousin, Mary, the mother of Jesus. But now John was in prison, and he thought, “What’s wrong? Something has gone wrong!” So, we read in Luke 7:19-22 that, “calling unto him two of his disciples [John] sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come: or look we for another? When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come or look we for another?

“And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the Gospel is preached.” He knew these signs would allay John’s doubts that he was the Messiah.

We have one very remarkable instance given to us in the Scriptures, which gives evidence of our Lord’s awareness of the Father’s presence, and fully how he realized that what he had accomplished was done through the power of God. It is the beautiful story of the resurrection of Lazarus. Prior to this Jesus had indeed awakened several from the sleep of death. He had awakened the son of the widow of Nain as he was being carried to the grave. He had awakened the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue. These were awakenings—in one sense a little different from calling someone forth from the “prison house.” (Isa. 42:6,7) In Bible language the ‘prison house’ is the grave. In this sense, the special promise was yet to be fulfilled, that the Messiah would call forth the prisoners forth from the ‘prison house’.

We are familiar with the account in the 11th chapter of John: Jesus was told by his disciples, when he was some distance from Bethany, that Lazarus was sick—very sick. They knew he loved Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, and they were a little puzzled about his hesitancy in going back to their home in Bethany. We read, beginning with verse 3, “His sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”

When Jesus finally arrived at the home, Lazarus had already died. The first person he met was Martha, and as she came out to meet him, her strong faith was exhibited by her words. We read: “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die, Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (vss. 23-27) Paraphrasing, “I know you are the Messiah who is supposed to bring back the dead.” She thought this would happen soon, but it came much sooner than she realized.

Jesus then met Mary, who had collapsed from grief and was in a highly emotional state because of her sorrow. Then Jesus asked, “Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. … Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

“… Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth.” Then the mourners standing there saw their friend, their relative, their neighbor, stumble out of the grave, bound hand and foot, shielding his eyes from the light. Jesus said, “Loose him, and let him go! It’s Lazarus!” We cannot begin to contemplate, to imagine, what that scene was like! Later on they went back home together, and it is doubtful that anybody slept that night, at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus!

Jesus had indeed called one back from the ‘prison house’ of death. We can imagine the disciples asking, “Master, will you bring everybody back?” “Oh, yes,” we might imagine he would answer them: “Remember that the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear my voice, and shall come forth.” (John 5:28,29) It will be the resurrection of all the dead.

And so we recognize that our Lord, because of his awareness of the place God had for him in his plan, had ‘set’ the Father always before him. He knew that everything he did throughout the period of his ministry was done by the clear instructions of God, and by the power of God. Jesus knew that whatever happened to him, he must accept it as from God. He learned obedience and was made perfect by the things which he suffered.—Heb. 2:10; 5:8

Even hours before his crucifixion, anticipating the severity of his ordeal, Jesus realized that he must pour out the incense of his love and devotion perfectly, as he endured the fiery trials. He must pour it out obediently even unto death. “Jesus said unto Peter, … the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”—John 18:11

If Jesus had to die, exhibiting perfect obedience and submission to God’s will, so also is it required of his footstep followers. Since we are imperfect beings, we cannot perform perfectly, but must seek to bring our intentions into harmony with Our Heavenly Father as nearly as possible, with the help and grace of God. We have been permitted to have an understanding of God’s plan and our relationship to it. We are determined that we shall “not be moved” from fulfilling our part faithfully, to God’s glory, and we shall not falter or fall!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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