“Blessed Are Those Who Trust”

Scripture – Matthew 4:1-11

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, February 26, 2023


During Lent our pastors are drawing inspiration for their sermons from the book, The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days, and the accompanying guide, Bless the Lent we Actually Have, both by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie.


Before beginning his ministry, Jesus embarked on a spiritual retreat. In the initial days of this retreat, he may have anticipated it to be an escape from demands and a haven of serenity. However, it turned out to be a spiritual boot camp. It was a lonely 40-day challenge in the barren wilderness. It was a time for thinking and a time for listening. But in the end, it became a time of testing.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke inform us that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. But rather than rising from the river and heading into the nearby villages to begin his ministry of teaching and healing, he walked into the wilderness.

At his baptism, Jesus heard a voice that revealed his special identity. But it was imperative for him to figure out the shape of that identity, so he withdrew from the crowds and marched into the desolate hills where he could get away from the distractions and be alone with God.

God had an unparalleled mission for Jesus, but since we all have freedom to choose, Jesus had to decide whether he would embrace or reject God’s intent for him. Our passage makes it clear that this was no simple matter. Jesus was tempted to reject the way of God in favor of a less demanding path. A path that would require minimal courage and fortitude. A path that would spare him biting ridicule and unjust abuse.

We know nothing of the first 39 days because the real action did not commence until day 40. At the moment Jesus was running on empty, the Prince of Darkness appeared with a tempting proposition. The devil bent over, picked up a good-sized rock, and turned it over in his hand. Was he inspecting it or mulling over an idea? Unexpectedly, he tossed it to Jesus who made a quick grab. As he did, the tempter said, “Why not turn it into a loaf of warm bread?”

Jesus was famished so it sounded like the perfect ticket. And he might have fallen for it if that were the only issue at hand. The weeks in the wilderness had weakened his body, but honed his insights. He perceived deeper concerns. He replied by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy, words that Moses had spoken to the Hebrew people after they had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Bread, as delicious as it can be, will only meet our physical needs. It cannot satisfy the deeper hungers of our soul. We need not only the food that sustains life, but the food that makes life rich – love, joy, forgiveness, purpose, peace, hope…

After Jesus deflected the first temptation, the tempter whisked him to the pinnacle of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for the Scriptures say ‘He will command his angels concerning you and you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

The wily Prince of Darkness employed Scripture to try to trick Jesus. But Jesus would not be seduced and replied, “Here’s another verse of scripture back at you: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Finally, the tempter tried to entice Jesus with a promise of unbridled power. He said, “I’ll give you glory, Jesus, and authority! Think of all the good you could do! And the price? A pittance. Simply worship me.”

It is helpful to remember that the temptations did not occur when he was fresh out of the water marching in confidence and feeling high and mighty. The temptations came after he was depleted and running on empty. The temptations came when he was susceptible because if they had come on day two or three, he would not have even noticed. Or if he had noticed, they would have seemed trivial; minor irritants. But on day 40, when he was at a low point, that’s when the temptations loomed large.

But while the forty days had left Jesus famished, it had also clarified his mission and magnified his courage. He put an end to the dual in the desert. He rejected the temptation to strive for glory and influence by refusing to chase after lesser gods. He said, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

You do not need to believe in a literal demonic figure to glean truth from this story. Evil – whether personified or not – is a malevolent force in the world. People are lured into greed, hate, lust, dishonesty, cruelty, indifference…the list is long! Each of us is tempted to do things that warp our character or sabotage our relationships.

Sometimes the temptations are easy to swat away. Other times, the temptation is clear, but the struggle is fierce. However, the most dangerous may be the powers that deceive us, because they appear harmless. They contort our character before we realize it and we morph into someone we no longer recognize.

How are you tempted? What tempts you? Choosing between good and evil is a dominant theme in all religions because it is a fundamental struggle that every human being faces. We know what leads to health and wholeness, love and beauty. Yet, at times, we fall victim to forces that lead us away from the things that will enrich our soul. It’s not always easy to choose what is right when evil appears to be something that glitters.

How often do we choose one option over another simply because it is easier? How often do we reject a choice because it will require so much of us?

Women would never have won the right to vote if people had chosen to take the less demanding path. The Civil Rights Act would never have become law if people had chosen to do what was easy rather than what was right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

When we are tempted to believe that there is nothing we can do to heal even a small portion of the world, joy drains out of our pores and hope is strangled. But when we hold God’s dream before us and do what we can to live into it, we find our purpose and a goal worth pursuing.

Can you drop your cynicism? Can you drop your discouragement? God gives you the wisdom and the incentive and the tenacity to help create a better future. Use them!

In today’s passage, underlying each of the three temptations is one issue: trust. Who will you trust?  Will you rely solely on your own wit and ingenuity, or will you trust God?

God does not overwhelm us and force us to trust. We have to choose. When life is grueling and the days are dark, we are tempted to fold. But it is at such times that we need to trust that God will see us through to better days.

A colleague shares a story about the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther. “Luther had invited some friends to his home for dinner at a time when the reformers were not having a great deal of success. During the meal, Luther bemoaned the many setbacks they had recently encountered. As the night wore on, Luther’s catalogue of disappointments grew longer and longer. Then, suddenly, Luther realized that his wife, Katie, had left the table and was now coming back to the table dressed in black. Luther asked her why she had changed her clothes. She responded, ‘Well, to hear you talk, dear Martin, I thought that perhaps God had died and I should dress for the funeral.’ Which caused Luther to laugh at his own foolishness and to remember God’s promises. He got up from the table and got back to preaching and teaching, and trusting God to guide them.”1

Otis Moss III says, “Be careful about cussing your desert, because it may be your holy place. Mountains are where you find God, but the desert is where you find your soul.”2

Priest and poet, John O’Donohue, wrote, “One of my images of the divine is that it is light in some form, and that the divine light works very tenderly with human freedom. If you don’t believe that the light is there, you will experience the darkness. But if you believe the light is there, and if you call the light toward you, and if you call it into whatever you’re involved in, the light will not fail you. What the heart of the Christian mystery, the resurrection, means is that at the heart of darkness there isn’t darkness but the eternal candle.”3

So when you find yourself in the wilderness and the darkness seems to be closing in, do not let it overwhelm you. Search for the light. God plants lighthouses and torches all over.



  1. David Lose, “The First Sunday in Lent,” A Sermon for Every Sunday, February 26, 2023.
  2. Otis Moss III, “How the Enemy Works,” January 8, 2023.
  3. John O’Donohue, Walking in Wonder, (New York: Convergent, 2015), p. 17.