2023-01-22 “In the Hour of Trial

Cornerstone EPC                                                                                      Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                                   January 22, 2023

In the Hour of Trial”
Matthew 4:1-11

We meet Jesus today, in our text, just after His baptism and just prior to His entrance into His public ministry. We also meet him in the proverbial hour—yea, almost six weeks—of trial. Jesus’ trial, as we shall see presently, was a supernaturally severe trial. Ours will never be as severe as His, though they be virulent enough from time to time. Yet what we learn in our text today will enable us to bear well and to profit from our times of trial as well. Let us hear the Word of God read and proclaimed once again in this place.


The setting for this trial, this contest between Satan and Jesus, is the Judean wilderness. That wilderness lies between the Jordan River to the east and Mount Zion, atop which Jerusalem stands, to the west. It is a lonely, even desolate place. It is a dry place, and, at times, it is a brutally hot place. It is a place of steep slopes and deep ravines. It also is a place where wild animals, likely dangerous, lurk (cf. Mark 4:13). Into this setting the Holy Spirit led (cf. Mark: drove) Jesus: both to fast forty days (and afterward to be hungry) and to endure temptations prior to those listed here. We come now to the final three temptations—and, happily, we come to Jesus’ rebuff of each.

The devil prefaces each temptation with these words: “If You are the Son of God,….” Perhaps he aims to cause Jesus to doubt His relation to His Father—as if he could—but perhaps this is not the case. Perhaps the sense of the devil’s remark is more akin to, “Since You are the Son of God…,” thus intimating that Jesus easily can do the things he suggests. Jesus rebuffs each temptation by a quotation from the Word of Good. In particular, Jesus rebuffs Satan from that portion of God’s Word committed to print in Jesus’ day—the Old Testament. Jesus’ refutation of the tempter from Scripture moves us to follow suit—to resist Satan from both Testaments of the Word of God.

Now we treat each temptation, and rebuff, in turn. The devil, attacking Jesus at a very weak moment as to His humanity, offers the first temptation recorded in Matthew 4, saying, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” This attack, ostensibly, has good ends: Jesus, by compliance with Satan’s suggestion, both alleviates His hunger and displays His sovereign power over creation. Yet such a compliance may make Jesus’ appear ever so slightly selfish—and, worse, such a compliance cedes sovereignty to Satan. Hence, Jesus complies not, but rebuffs from the Word of God: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Even Jesus endures hunger to a degree few others ever feel, yet His hunger for the Word of God is stronger still.

The devil, thus rebuffed, offers a second temptation. He removes Jesus from the Judean wilderness to Jerusalem, to the very pinnacle of the Temple standing there—and Jesus permits this. Satan then speaks, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down….” This suggestion, from such a dizzying height, well may result in a dramatic rescue before a large crowd to witness it. This temptation, against, has ostensibly good aims: it reveals the Son’s trust in the Father, it reveals the Father’s care for the Son, and it reveals spectacular power from on high. Moreover, the tempter, noting Jesus’ stance upon the Word of God to rebuff him, adduces Scripture to buttress his argument. He misquotes Psalm 91:11-12 slightly, saying, “For it is written, ‘He will command you His angels concerning You…On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’”1 Yet, once again, should Jesus comply, He would perform a spectacularly frivolous act at the bidding of the evil one. Jesus yields not to this temptation either, but He again rebuffs Satan from the Word of God, saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16).

The devil, now twice rebuffed in Matthew 4—and every other time during Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness, now cuts to the chase. The evil one removes Jesus from the pinnacle of the Temple and places Him atop a very high mountain—once again, with Jesus’ implied permission. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor—as if He did not know infinitely well of them already—and he declares his authority (albeit derivative) over these kingdoms (Luke 4:6). All these the devil with give to Jesus, in exchange for compliance with the third, and most nefarious, temptation: “Worship me.”

The devil, to say the least, has a lot of cheek. Satan offers this temptation as if he is worthy of worship. He offers it as if Jesus ultimately does not own all and reign over all. This temptation, simply, cannot be borne. Hence, Jesus rebuffs Satan a third time, saying, “Be gone, Satan!” Then Jesus adduces the Word of God in His favor, saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Deuteronomy 6:13).

The narrative hastens to and through its denouement. The devil leaves Jesus until an opportune time (Luke 4:13), having failed at every turn to entice Him to sin. He also leaves because Jesus commands him, and Satan, after all, must yield to Jesus—not the other way around. After the devil, thus resisted, flees, angels come and minister unto Jesus. This happened at other times in Jesus’ ministry, such as in the garden of Gethsemane, for example, (Luke 22:43), and this happens routinely for us who are in Christ (cf. Hebrews 1:14, which states that angels are ministering spirits sent to aid us who will inherit salvation). Finally, after Jesus’ severe trial and subsequent receipt of angelic ministry, the narrative closes.

We see that the Father tested (or tried, Greek peirazo [peirazw]) His Son, prior to the Son entering upon His public ministry—and this via the devil tempting Him (also peirazo). We too find ourselves tried by God—sometimes, like Jesus, on what appears to be the most unpromising ground. These tests, these trials—yea, even these temptations—come in God’s good providence for holy aims. They come in order that our faith, more precious than refined gold, be proved genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7). They comes in order that we arrive at maturity and completeness, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4). They also come in order that we arrive at hope—a confident, humble expectation of future good from God’s good hand (cf. Romans 5:1-5). Furthermore, they come in order that our ministerial capacity increase (cf. the life of Paul, in toto).

Good, then, may come from trial, testing, and temptation—but little, if any good, comes from yielding to temptation. In the hour of trial, then, put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11, cf. Ibid, 10-20). The panoply includes truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, and the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God, our sole offensive weapon, which Jesus wielded so skillfully and devastatingly. Resist the tempter, for the Lord promises through James that he will flee at such resistance (James 4:7). In particular, resist the tempter from the Word of God. Read the Word of God for yourself. Hear the Word of God as well: both read and soundly proclaimed. Memorize portions of that Word—that they may bear you in good stead, especially in a sudden-onset trial. Finally, do these not for a brief period, or brief periods, alone, but do these consistently over a long course of life. Then find your spiritual muscle strengthened, your ministerial fitness increased, and God glorified.


1The tempter omits, “…to guard You in all Your ways…,” represented by the ellipsis above, from the second half of Psalm 91:11.