Transcendence vs. Immanence (Wk 1 – Worship Matters)
Jason White






Worship requires participation. It’s a response to who God is, and your view of God will determine how you worship. God is both immanent and transcendent, and understanding those concepts will affect the way you worship Him.





Sermon Audio Transcript
“Worship Matters”Week 1 - Transcendent & ImmanentSo today we are beginning a new sermon series on worship, which is of course, what we have gathered here to do today…to worship. This is a worship service and the whole point is to lead us together as a congregation to worship.But I’ve got to tell you upfront, that it is possible for you to be here every single Sunday at a WORSHIP service but not actually worship.See, worship is a response on our part to who God is and what He has done. And to respond involves participation, right? And to participate means to take part in the worship service.The opposite of taking part in something…to participating in it is to just simply watch it, like watching a performance. So, on Sunday mornings, there is a band up (or choir…Jerry) here playing or singing songs, there are people like me who preach sermons during this time… and of course, all of this is happening on a stage. So one way to look at this time is like it is a performance. At a performance, you come to watch people perform – you watch and listen to the band perform songs. You watch me as if I am performing for you as I speak…So you leave here and either you were entertained or you were not, and you talk with your friends or family about what entertained you and what did not.So…, if worship involves a response…if it requires participation, then it is possible to be here each and every Sunday at a worship service and not really worship. And this is no small thing because worship really matters to God. In Exodus, God tells Moses that He is a jealous God…and In Isaiah 46:8, God says, “8 “I am the LORD…I will not yield my glory to another.” In other words, God desires our attention and focus on Him…and He is at work in our lives to lead us to respond to who He is as our Lord and Creator in worship. So…WORSHIP REALLY DOES MATTER. IT MATTERS TO GOD.But even if we start to get that…that worship matters, which involves us participating as we respond to who God is and what He has done, the question arises, “How do I participate? How does the Spirit lead us to worship God? What are the best ways to respond to who God is to bring Him glory?” “Do I worship with my head or my heart? Should I sing hymns or praise songs? Should I kneel or stand? Do I raise my hands or keep them by my side? Is it just something I do when I am here at a church worship service or are there other ways to worship when I’m not here?”So when we think about this, we see that there are matters of worship to consider. So the word “matters” can be a verb as in “worship matters to God.” But it can also be a noun as in “there are matters of worship found in Scripture.” And because worship really does matter to God and because there are various matters of worship, today we are starting this new message series called WORSHIP MATTERS.And so today as we begin, one of the specific matters of worship that seem to be in conflict with each other and that has probably caused a lot of arguing in the church over the last 20-30 years has been whether we approach God in worship through reverence or more like a friend. Is He an exalted sovereign God who we stand in reverence of as we worship? Or is He more like a friend who we feel is with us as we worship? Another way of asking the question, is this, “Is God a transcendent God or an immanent God?” Is He a God who exists above and independent from creation? Which is of course what transcendence means…or “Is He a God who is near to us, like a friend?” Is He immanent?And how you answer this question will usually determine the way you approach worship. So let’s dive into Scripture and see what it says about God being transcendent or immanent. Neh 8:1…When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. Ok so it might be helpful to have some background information to know what is going on here. The Israelites who were God’s chosen people had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians for a period of time as a result of their continued disobedience to God. But because of God’s great mercy, He delivered them and allowed them to come back. See, the Medo-Persians eventually took over the Babylonians and the king of Persia decided to allow a priest named Ezra to bring some of the Israelites back home to Jerusalem…But then later on, He also let a man named Nehemiah bring the rest of the Israelites home to rebuild the walls around the temple in order to secure the city. And the wall does get finished and this is where we are picking up in chapter 8 here…with the people gathering together before the Lord. So Ezra has the book of the law and the people are gathered together...look at verse 2…2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. 4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion… 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Ok, so Ezra praises the Lord which is an expression of worship, and what do the people do?THEY RESPOND! They begin to participate themselves!They don’t sit there as Ezra praises the Lord and treat it as if they are watching a performance, “Wow, that is very entertaining to see Ezra up there praising the Lord like that.”No, what we see is that they respond and begin to participate…First, they participate by “raising their hands.” Raising your hands can mean a number of things:It can be a way of showing need (children raise their hands to get you to pick them up b/c they need you) Raising hands is a way to show surrender (I give up…I’m available and am looking for you to lead me instead of me continuing to try and lead myself out of my own flesh)It’s a way of testifying something is true (today, we raise our right hand before being sworn in to testify in a courtroom, right?). We raise our hand to say, “I am in agreement with that. That statement about God is true. Those lyrics I am singing right now are so true.”So we see the people here responding and participating in worship by raising their hands, BUT ALSO WITH THEIR WORDS (underline on board)!They were shouting “Amen, Amen.” Or “so be it,” like “that is truth…He is the great God…the Lord.” So, again they responded to the leader praising God by participating with him through raising hands and raising their voices…but that’s not all, look at what the verse says next in the rest of verse 6…Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. This is a position of humility. A position of respect. A position of awe and fear.But WHY? Why would they respond and express their worship to God in this way? Well, in short, it’s because of God’s transcendence. Ezra is reading from the Book of the Law and the people are starting to see clearly or be reminded of who God really is, A GOD WHO EXISTS ABOVE AND INDEPENDENT FROM CREATION. This is the message of Scripture…DEUTERONOMY 4:3939 Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.EXODUS 33:20Moses asked to see God’ glory and God said, “20 …you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” ISAIAH 55:8-98 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. PSALM 113:55 Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on highPart of God’s nature is transcendence. One author describes His transcendence in this way…“God is other and set apart from everything else, he is in a class by himself. God is not just quantitatively greater than us, but qualitatively different in his greatness. He is transcendent, infinitely above or beyond us. The true God is distinct, set apart, from all that he has made as the only truly self-sufficient Being. All his creatures depend on him; he alone exists from within himself. And the true God is distinct, set apart, from all that is evil. His moral perfection is absolute. His character as expressed in his will forms the absolute standard of moral excellence. God is holy, the absolute point of reference for all that exists and is good. Across the board he is to be contrasted with his creatures. At heart he is a glowing-white center of absolute purity.” (Thomas Trevethan)So why were the Israelites bowing down in fear and in awe of God? Because they were seeing God clearly for who He is, a transcendent God… and when they began to see who He was, this was the response that was appropriate. It is appropriate to bow down and put your face down on the ground before a transcendent God.BUT look at what the next few verses say, because not only were they bowing down but His transcendence caused another reaction…skip down to verse 9…9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. The reality of God’s transcendence caused them to weep…they were grieving. Why? Because the law was doing what it was intended to do… The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3:20, “through the law we become conscious of our sin.” The Law in the OT is a reflection of the transcendent character and holiness of God. It shows how perfect He really is. So the law was doing what it was designed to do: show people that standing before a transcendent, holy God means we don’t have a chance. I mean, talk about a reason to grieve, mourn, and weep right? This is a natural response for someone to see who God truly is and how they don’t measure up before Him.But, what is interesting here too is that, “Did you notice that Ezra and the teachers of the law were telling the people not to mourn or weep?” (v.9 on board)… Yeah, look at what Nehemiah says next in (V10)…10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. So, what is happening here is the beginning of what was called the feast of trumpets. See, there were all of these different festivals that God had told the people to participate in throughout the Jewish calendar…And without going into detail the basic idea of these festivals were “to be celebrations remembering God’s great acts of salvation in the history of His people.” And listen, the only way that God could save people is for Him to be immanent which means to be near…to be present with people and involved with people, to dwell with people. And we know this to be true…From the very beginning of Scripture we see this truth about God.In Gen 3 we are told that God is walking in the Garden in and amongst Adam & Eve. He is with them, present in their lives.We read about his immanence in the way David talked about God in Psalm 139…7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. In other words, God is immanent. He is near and involved with His creation…And the Israelites in Nehemiah were celebrating His immanence as witnessed in the way God had rescued them and saved them over and over again.And the response…the way they were told to worship Him in response to that was to celebrate and rejoice!So…this act of worship (celebrating and rejoicing) is very different than the way they were worshiping earlier (bowed down, mourning/weeping, complete reverence)…this was more of a party atmosphere!Okay, so earlier, we were asking the question, “Is God transcendent or is He immanent?” We need to know because that will affect the way we respond in our worship to Him.And as you have seen from Scripture today the answer to our question is YES. God is transcendent and He is immanent. He is completely different and above you and me in one sense but at the same time He is near us and involved with us as His creation.And for us, it’s even better than those in the OT, because we see the ultimate example of God’s immanence in Him coming to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. John 1:14 says, 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. And then after His life, sacrificial death on the cross, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit, when you and I put our faith in Him for salvation, we become united to Jesus and have an intimate relationship with Him and God the Father. In 1 Cor. 6:17, Paul says, 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. And in Ro. 8:15 he says, 15 … the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”So as far as God’s immanence or nearness to us, we today, on the other side of the cross are able to experience God in an extremely intimate way…as a child and His daddy experience a relationship. So let’s talk about what all of this practically means for us as far as worship is concerned. First of all, we saw in Scripture today that worship requires your participation. You can’t really come to a church worship service and sit through it as if you were viewing a performance and then go home later today and say that you worshiped. So maybe for some of you, that is the first application for you. Maybe He’s leading you to sing when we sing, to give when we give, to pray when we pray, and to listen for His voice when we teach from His Word. But for those of you who are used to participating in worship, chances are you lean towards one of the 2 attributes of God we talked about today…You see God as mostly transcendent or mostly as immanent. So if you see Him mostly as transcendent or above and independent of creation then in worship you are more likely to express worship in reverence…so for you, worship is to be orderly and respectful. And for others of you who mostly see God as immanent, like a Friend who is there for you then maybe you express worship in a much more approachable & celebratory way.But listen, guys, as we have seen in Scripture both of these are attributes of God. It is not one or the other…and because both of these are true of who God is then they need to be held in tension together. We need to let our awareness of God being both transcendent and immanent guide us in how we worship. I mean just in the Nehemiah passage alone we saw people kneeling before a holy God in reverence of Him…we saw them crying and broken…we saw that they worshiped with their hands raised and with their voices…and we saw that they were told to worship with celebration and joy. So here is what I want to encourage you to do…I want to encourage you to try to step outside of your little box…of your comfort zone when it comes to worship throughout this series. For some of you that means you are comfortable with clapping, raising your hands, being in joyful celebration to God who is near but you want to reflect His transcendence with reverence and awe in worship so maybe you get down on your knees and bow before Him, or you close your eyes and bow your head as you sing…FOR OTHERS, maybe that means that you try clapping, raising your hands or picturing God being near you and with you as you worship Him.