Cookie jars are probably among the most tempting devices ever created. I mean, they advertise their contents! They scream “open me” - “eat me!” Even when we’re on a diet... or even though we’ve been told to wait until after dinner. Of course, pie and cake plates pose the same problem!
I suppose we’re all kinda like “Snoopy” in the comic strip Peanuts… We come knocking at Charlie Brown’s door insisting we’ve heard a chocolate chip cookie calling us by name! It’s not that we want to eat them all… we just want to look at them, right? To smell them… maybe take a little taste! But before you know it we find we have eaten every cookie in the jar.
Temptation, fall, and discovery: it’s a familiar story with an ancient plot. Cause it’s a tale that was first told in the beginning, at the creation.
Of course, there were no cookie jars or pie plates… no tempting cake containers on the counter in Eden‘s garden. But there was a tree that the man and woman were told by God, “do not touch.”
And of course, human nature being what human nature is, telling any of us “don’t touch” is like hanging a “wet paint sign” on the wall. You’ve just gotta touch it… you just need to touch it, to see what happens.
Only according to God‘s word, there was a third party involved in our scripture… The serpent, who is more subtle, more cunning than any other of God‘s creation. And this serpent approached Eve hissing words of temptation, and inviting her to taste the fruit… the forbidden fruit.
At first, she just took a little pull... a little tug... but, soon she was filling up her fig leaf.
Of course, this offers us a lesson in human nature. Eve knew full well what she had done was wrong… and that dis-obeying God would have consequences. So she invited Adam along to join her in her sin.
Of course, Adam didn’t protest in any way, shape, form or fashion! And there they were: suddenly caught in their shame and guilt over what they had done.
That evening as God came strolling around in the garden… He asked the man and the woman, “what have you done?”
And here’s the second lesson in human behavior: shifting blame. Adam immediately stood up and accepted blame by saying, “well God it’s the woman you gave me that made me do it.” And Eve was quick to respond, “it was the serpent that caused me to do it.” Of course, the snake had no one to blame… and today we’re all still living with the consequences.
C. S. Lewis once said, “we’re all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.” Theologians call it original sin. That there’s something twisted, and distorted, within human nature… that despite our very best efforts, we’re not the people God created us to be.
In our second scripture lesson we hear a very familiar passage of scripture, from the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It’s a high-point as Jesus begins his three years of teaching and healing and restoring God’s people. He had been baptized by John the Baptist, the heavens and opened up, the Holy Spirit came down like a dove… And there was a voice, God‘s voice, declaring, “this is my Son, who I love, in whom I’m well pleased.” Then, immediately Jesus was led into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, where he was tempted by Satan himself.
It’s a fact, born-out in life: you can count on it. Look back at your own life, and you can probably see that immediately following a victory, a triumph… comes temptation. If you never felt like you’ve been counter punched by Satan, then you’re probably not progressing, and maturing, and growing in the faith. Because those who are progressing, and maturing, and growing experience push back.
Temptation’s not something that we leave behind as Christians. It’s not something that we outgrow as we mature as followers of Christ. In Luke’s version of the Temptation story, at the very end, he says that the devil left Jesus until “a more opportune time.” (Luke 4:13) Since we’re all Christians, and all human, we will be tempted from time to time. It’s a constant in life.
And my friends we need to make no mistake about it, God‘s word is quite clear that there is an external, evil, demonic force, that’s opposed to God and God‘s people. Call it Satan, call it the devil, or Lucifer, the tempter… Call it whatever… It’s been active since the very beginning of creation causing Gods people to stumble and fall.
But just as there is an external force, that brings temptation into our lives… there’s an internal desire that’s working against us, too. Thomas Aquinas said, “there is no man completely free from temptation, as long as he lives, because the source of temptation is within us.”
God created us as a people of passion, and desire. God created our passion and desire to be a good thing, and it is a good thing when it’s controlled. But life seems to be, at many times, a struggle to see if we can control our passions and our desires... or whether our passions and desires control us.
Kind a like watching someone walk a really big dog. Because there’s always some question as to who’s walking whom.
In Proverbs we’re told, “there is a way that seems right to man, but whose end is death.” And when we allow our passions and desires to control us... when we allow them to take over our living... we risk giving into sin that breaks our relationship with God.
So the question for us is: what can you and I do as Christians in response to temptation? When we’re tempted, not if we’re tempted, but when we are tempted… how are we called to respond as Gods people?
Well, the letter of James in the New Testament has a lot of good advice about this. And James says the very first thing you and I should do as followers of Christ, when we are tempted, is rejoice! Of course, we all do that right? The very first thing we do when we’re tempted is rejoice?
But the fact of the matter is… Temptation is simply a choice. And in-and-of itself temptation is not sin. Jesus was tempted… Yet we know Jesus was without sin.
James says we should rejoice as Christians when facing temptation, because at that moment in our life, we have the opportunity to grow as Christians. Temptation is just a decision… an opportunity for us to choose Christ, or choose against him... and the more you and I choose Christ when we’re tempted... the more and more we grow and mature in our faith. So James says to count it all joy… This is how we grow in Christ… This is how we lack nothing.
Of course, the fact is at some point or another, we all find ourselves staring at that cookie jar… Sometimes with crumbs on our fingers and chocolate on our face. Caught in the middle of our sin, having given in to the temptation. And in those moments, hear this truth…
Our Lord and Savior steps in… And even when we’ve been caught “red-handed” in our sin… When we confess to him what we’ve done… He gathers us in his arms… He hugs us… Reminding us that he loves us and he forgives us… And then he sets us back on our feet, to once again live as his children.
Make no mistake… We will continue to be tempted. There have always been, and always will be, forbidden cookie jars, and forbidden fruit all around us. But you and I need not fall.
God‘s word promises us, in 1st Corinthians 10:13, “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”