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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:Transcendence and Immanence
Text:LD 35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 2nd Commandment (No images)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Singing: Ps. 103:1,7,8; Ps. 115:2,3; Ps. 115:6,7; Ps. 115:8; Hy. 9

Reading of Scripture: Is. 40:12-31; 57:15
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

I preach to you the Word of God under this theme:


That is, as the One who is:

1. Exalted above us; 2. Near unto us; 3. Faithful towards us Transcendent; Immanent; Faithful)

1. We are to worship the LORD as the Transcendent God, i.e., the One who is highly exalted above the earth.

In the Second Commandment, the LORD forbade Israel from making any idol, any carving or statue, of any creature that would be used to serve as a image of God.
So strongly did God forbid this that he threatened that his vengeance would break out upon his people for three or four generations if they began to worship him by way of idols.
This sin would provoke his jealousy.
As a husband would be inflamed with jealousy if his bride were to show love to another man, so the LORD's jealousy would be provoked.
To understand why God hates this sin so much, we must know what lies at the root of the sin against the second commandment.
What was the point of making an idol-image of God.
Why did people make idols?
The heathen made idols to have control over their gods.
They did not think that the idol was the god as such; rather, they saw the idol as a point of contact between themselves and their god.
After the idol was made out of stone or wood, the priests would conduct a special ceremony in which they would call upon the god to enter the idol.
They believed that the invisible power of their god (e.g., Baal or Dagon) then took up residence in the idol.
By doing this, they had their god in their control.
They could take him wherever they wanted.
In Is. 44 and 46 the prophet ridiculed those who thought like this.
He mocked those who carried images of their gods around on donkeys and oxen thinking they were carting their god around.

In Rom. 1, Paul wrote about this sinful urge of man to pull God down into creation.
Ever since the creation of the world, wrote Paul, God's invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity had been obvious to all.
But that wasn't enough for men.
They did not want to worship the invisible God who showed His power in His creation and in His providence.
They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

In this way, man tries to exercise control over God.
He pulls the Creator down into creation.
He makes the almighty Maker of heaven and earth part of the created world.
Israel was guilty of this sin before they had spent more than a couple of months in the wilderness after being set free from Egypt by God's almighty power.

While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the ten commandments from God, the people of Israel got impatient.
They thought that Moses, their leader, wasn't coming back.
So they said to Aaron, "Make us gods who shall go before us."
And Aaron did.
He collected the gold earrings of all the people, melted them, and made a bull calf, which the people then worshiped.
They shouted, "This is the god who brought us up out of Egypt!!"

Their purpose was not to begin worshiping another god.
They wanted to worship the LORD, Yahweh, who had delivered them from Egypt.
But they did so in their own way.
They did so by way of a golden calf.
They worshiped the calf as a physical image of the God in heaven.
They wanted to see their God.
They weren't content with a God who spoke to them through His servant Moses.
They wanted to see Him and control Him.
They tried to pull Him, the transcendent God, out of the heavens above into the area of creation.

Another example of this perverted way of thinking is when the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines.
Israel was losing the war against the Philistines, and so they thought, "Hey, let's bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from the tabernacle to the battlefield.
Then the LORD will be in our midst."
You see how they were thinking, don't you?
They thought they could cart God around.
They thought they could put Him on a wagon and take Him wherever they wanted Him.
Well, they lost the war, and the Philistines captured the ark.
A third example is the sin of King Jeroboam.
He was king of the 10 tribes after the civil war between Judah and the rest of Israel.
Now, of course he didn't want people going from his kingdom in the north to the temple at Jerusalem in the south.
He was scared that if they went to Jerusalem, their hearts might turn again to the house of David and to king Rehoboam, David's grandson who was the king of Judah.
So he put one golden calf in the north of the kingdom of the ten tribes, and another in the south of his kingdom (in Dan and Bethel) to prevent his subjects from going to Jerusalem to worship the LORD.
He said, "You don't have to go to Jerusalem to bring sacrifices.
Go to Dan; go to Bethel, which ever is more convenient.
Worship the LORD at the golden calves.
There you can meet the God who brought you up out of Egypt."
And by doing so, he led Israel down the road of idolatry.

Making images of God belittles Him.
It does not acknowledge that God is above creation, that He is completely different from creation.
As the Preacher said in Eccl. 5, "God is in heaven and you are on earth."
God is transcendent above creation.
There is an infinite difference between the Creator and creation.
Over against all attempts of man to make God part of creation, to belittle Him, to have control over Him, God proclaims His transcendent greatness.
Think of the passage we read from Is. 40.
God is so great He can measure the waters of the earth in the hollow of His hand.
He can enclose the dust of the earth in a measuring cup.
He can pick up all the mountains and hills and weigh them in a balance.
All the nations of the earth are like a drop of water from a bucket compared to Him.
They are like the little bit of insignificant dust on a set of scales.
Before God, the nations are less than nothing, less than emptiness itself.
And then, v. 18, the prophet asks the question: "To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to?"
An idol of wood overlaid with gold and silver?
You want to say that your idol bears any relationship at all to the immeasurable God in heaven?
Come on now! Don't be ridiculous!

God may not be visibly portrayed in any way; in fact, He cannot be visibly portrayed.
As John 1:18 says, no one has ever seen God, except His only begotten Son.
How could anyone have any idea how to make a picture of God.
As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:16), the Sovereign Lord and King dwells in unapproachable light; no man has ever seen God or can see God.
God cannot be seen by human eye and so no picture can be drawn of Him by human hand.
God is the transcendent One.
As He Himself said in Is. 57, "For this is what the high and lofty One says--he who lives forever, whose name is Holy: I live in a high and holy place."
Behold your God, beloved!
He is the high and lofty One.
He lives forever.
His name is Holy.
Understand well how your God is transcendent, exalted, far above the creation you live in.

Likely we are not going to begin making physical images of God.
And yet the word that proclaims God as the transcendent God has something to say to us.
Whenever we trivialize God or rationalize his commandments to harmonize with our chosen lifestyles and behaviour, we are confronted by the 2nd commandment.
Whenever we forget that God is highly exalted above his creation, and forget to take him seriously, the 2nd commandment confronts us.

God is the speaking God.
He has spoken his law to us.
Whenever we don't take His Word seriously, we break the second commandment.
For if we do not take his word seriously, we do not take Him seriously.
When we think we can serve him on our terms rather than his terms, the 2nd commandment is pressing against us.

Does the transcendence of God mean that he is out of reach?
That he is highly exalted above the earth-does that mean we cannot connect with him?
That we ought to be scared of him?
No, for he is also immanent.

2. We worship God who is near to us.

In that same passage of Is. 57, where God proclaimed Himself to be the high and lofty One, He also says: I also live with the one who is of a contrite and humble spirit.
God dwells in the highest heavens above, but he also dwells with those who turn to him in repentance and humility.

We learn the same from Is. 40. Immediately after God
proclaimed how infinitely exalted He is, He said:

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD ;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
(Cf. Hy. 9.)

It is this high and lofty God who knows how to comfort those who
need comfort.
It is this Holy God who knows how to help those who are weary because of their sins.
God gives power to those who are falling exhausted, who have no strength left.
There is no reason to be scared of the transcendent God.
None at all.
There is only reason to rejoice that we do indeed know this God.

For He comes and live closely to those who look to him.
He strengthens them.
God never gets tired.
He continues to encourage those who come to him with broken hearts, sorry for their sins.
Just like God lifted Israel out of Egypt as if on the wings of eagles, so we too fly on eagles wings.

It is this great God who comes to us with His Words of comfort.
It is this exalted God who knows our situation and who knows how to help us.
He has come near to us in the covenant relationship He has established with His people.
When Adam and Eve ran away from God trembling with fear because they had disobeyed Him, then God came looking for them.
He said, "Adam, where are you?"
And then God gave that glorious promise of a Saviour to them.

Throughout history, God has come near to His people with His promise and with His demand for faith and obedience.
That is the beauty of our God, beloved.
He is indeed the highly exalted One, but He is also the One who is very nearby.

The people of God didn't always believe this.
They made images of God to bring Him near.
That is the first side to the sin against this commandment.
The first is the desire to control God, to place Him in your pocket; the second is doubting that God is really near to us.

The heathen, who worshiped, e.g., the sun, wanted to bring their god closer to them.
The sun is so far away.
It is so far removed from every day life.
And so they would bring their god close to them in the form of an image.

Israel did the same.
Moses was up on the mountain.
God seemed so far away from them.
And so they tried to bring God near to them in the form of the golden calf.
And when the Israelites were losing the battle against the Philistines, we see the same thing.
They said, "God is not with us.
Let's bring Him into the thick of the battle.
Then He will be near to us and we will win."

Israel quit believing that God is near to those who love Him and believe in Him.
He is near to us in His Word and in His covenant promises.
That's what Moses said to Israel in Dt. 4.
He said, "Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And He declared to you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, that is, the ten commandments."

That word, said Moses later in Dt. 30, that word is not far away.
You don't have to ascend into heaven to hear that word.
You don't have to cross oceans.
No, it is very near.
The word of God comes to us.
God speaks to us.

The exalted God is near in His word.
And, in the fullness of time, He came even closer when He spoke to us in His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, the eternal Word of God by Whom everything was made that is made, came into the world.
He came near to us.
He lived among us.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
In Jesus Christ, God told us and showed us how much He loved us.
The love of God became manifest.

The Word of God let Himself be led to the cross.
And when, with faith's eye, we see the Lord Jesus Christ hanging there, knowing that it was because of our sins, we are convinced beyond any doubt that God is not some dispassionate, far removed God.
He is a God who loves us so much that He came near to us in His Son to do what we could not do.

And when the Lord Jesus Christ was again taken up into heaven, then He wasn't swallowed up by some giant void.
He didn't leave us to fend for ourselves.
God again came near to us; in fact, He came nearer than ever on the day of Pentecost when He poured His Holy Spirit upon us, the church.
The Holy Spirit of God the Father and God the Son is right here in our midst.
The church of Jesus Christ is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
God is that near to us.

God is near to each of us individually when we hear God's promise, and accept it in faith.
If you come to God with a broken and humble heart trusting God's promise of free remission of all your sin, then God is right with you.
He's that close.

God is not near in some mystical way.
No, He is near to us by faith in His Word.
By faith in Jesus Christ who brought reconciliation between God and us.
By faith in Jesus Christ who restores us to be God's image.

For that is what we were created to be.
We were created to be the image of God.
God's people don't worship an image of God; they are the image of God.
Let us be that image, restored by the obedience of Jesus Christ.
Let us walk day by day in obedience to the Word of God.
Let us worship God as He has commanded in His Word.
Let us acknowledge that He is the high and lofty One as well as the One who is near to those who pray to Him in humility.
Our God-transcendent and immanent at the same time.
Then we show that the Spirit of Jesus Christ has written the second commandment upon our hearts.
Then we show that we really are the renewed image of God.

3. We worship the God who is (transcendent; immanent) faithful.

This commandment has a promise and threat a attached to it.
God said that he will punish the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him, but will show love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

The consequences of sin are felt throughout the generations.
If the parents begin to stray away from God, the children usually stray farther, and the grandchildren are completely lost.
Children largely see God through the eyes of their parents.
There is nothing so important for parents as to give the right teaching about God to their children.
It is more important than giving them music lessons; it's more important than giving them the opportunity to play soccer or hockey or baseball or to go to summer camp.
All of these are nice, but they are nothing compared to the importance of training the children to be faithful believers, strong members of the church of Jesus Christ, capable soldiers for the Kingdom of God.
Parents need to teach that and to model it themselves.

Not only does the 2nd commandment include a threat; it includes a promise too.
The promise is that God will bless the faithfulness of parents.
I remind the parents of their baptismal vows.
There you promised to instruct your children in the doctrines of the Word of God, and to have them instructed therein to the utmost of your power.
If you keep your promise, God will bless you.
He will bless your children and your grandchildren, for a thousand generations.
Because He is faithful-to his covenant, to his promises.

As a community we need to continue diligently supporting our Christian schools.
Supporting the Christian schools has everything to do with the 2nd commandment.
The Christian schools are there to impart a biblical understanding of the world our children live in.
As the Christian schools impart this understanding, our youth will learn greater to appreciate their God in both his transcendence and his immanence.
They will want to worship God who is highly exalted above creation, and who, at the same time, lives very closely to those who love him.
And God will bless us.
For he is faithful-to his covenant, to his promises.

The 2nd commandment also speaks to the young people in the matter of dating, courting, engagement and marriage.
The 2nd commandment demands that you be united in your worship of our God.
You cannot be divided in worship.
For God is not divided.
Division in worship will result in a divided family.
The ill results of that will continue down through the generations.

When it comes to boy-girl relationships, the ultimate question is not whether she is good-looking or whether he is rich or has a nice
The ultimate question is: "Does this person love the Lord?
Does he want to serve the Lord in obedience?
Is she a faithful member of the church of Christ?"
God will bless that faithfulness too.
For he is faithful-faithful to those who put him first always.

Beloved, let us worship God according to His Word.
Our transcendent God who is far above his creation; who has come near to us in our Lord Jesus Christ; who demands that we obey him; who is ever faithful to his promises.
Let us be faithful to Him as church, as families, as individuals.
He will bless us.
He will bless our congregation.
Our families.
From generation to generation.
He, the highly exalted God who has come near to us in his Word, in his Son, and in his Holy Spirit, is faithful-to his covenant, to his promises.
Faithful to his people. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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