We have, all of us, become rather adept at avoiding the terrible danger of taking God seriously when He commands us to do a thing or not to do a thing. We take concrete commands and engage in remarkable gymnastics to make those concrete commands evaporate into a glorious metaphor or a misunderstood prohibition or a cultural inflection. We must, at all costs, keep religion out of the public square, out of our wallets, out of our beds, and perhaps most importantly, out of our calendars. And then the 4th commandment comes along and tells us to do something with our schedules. To be clear, God intends to give us a rather remarkable gift with this command, but it is a gift that must be received and it can only be received if we order our lives to receive it. In other words, it is a command to be obeyed, to be experienced, and received in wonderfully tangible ways (like food and drink and sleep and laughter and a nice fall walk).
The Sabbath creates all sorts of preachable resonances. It points to the rest that God has given us in the gospel. It anticipates the end of this age, when God’s great renovation project is complete. It hopes for the end of sin and death and all the ways they invade and corrupt our work. It calls us to hope in Jesus’ work rather than our own. It does all those things. Preachers point at these things when they talk about the Sabbath. But none of those things carry much weight - real, tangible, manifestly transformative weight - if we don’t receive the weekly gift of Sabbath rest. God has given us rest from dead works, and he wants us to taste that- to receive that, with weekly rest. God has given us a feast - a celebration, a life restored, and He wants us to experience something of that glory with a weekly feast, a weekly space given to see our bodies, our relationships, our lives restored.
The sabbath is not meant to merely be an idea of food and rest and joy. It is meant to be an experience of these things. A gift that draws us into the ever-expansive feast, a renewal that draws us into the renewal of all things. But it doesn’t work right if its just in our heads. It doesn’t do its work if its just an idea or a theological metaphor. It must be received. It must be obeyed.
And this is precisely how the 4th commandments moves us beyond the first 3. The worship of God alone, as He is, and with our whole lives (not vainly) must come out of our fingers. It has to be made real and tangible and will lead us into a profound and joyful obedience. And it is remarkable that God, after establishing the third commandment, begins such tangible obedience with a call to rest. He doesn’t start with painful works we’re to do, rather he begins with a call to feast, to rest, to celebrate His work. But such a command is to be obeyed. Such a gift is given that we might actually receive it. God has given us a kind of obedience that must be worked out, it has to be tangible. In other words, it has to be scheduled.