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"And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended He was hungry. The devil said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.' And Jesus answered him, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone."' And the devil took Him up, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, 'To you I will give all this power and authority; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.' And Jesus answered him, 'It is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve."' And he took Him to Jerusalem, and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, "He will give His angels charge of you, to guard you," and "On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone."' And Jesus answered him, 'It is said, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God."' And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time."
- Luke 4:1-13

It was Girl Scout Cookie delivery time, and as a 4th grade Sunday School teacher, you can well imagine that several of my current and former students had each hit me up to buy a couple of boxes - which I was glad to do, of course. I always shared some of the cookies with my class on that Sunday, but this time I also used the cookies as part of my lesson.

I began by passing out a cookie to each of my students. Having done so, I said, "As you know, we usually have treats later in the hour, after the serious learning, while we're doing activities. But since I've already passed some out, I guess I don't have to insist on following that usual rule right now. I won't be mad if you eat your cookies, but it's up to you."

Needless to say, they each ate some or all of their cookie. I gave them each another, then said, "OK, now we really need to get down to the lesson. So from here on, if anyone eats any of their cookie until we get to activity time, you won't get any more while we're doing the activities." This time, the cookies laid on the napkins untouched.

The point I was making, which was brought out in the ensuing discussion of the Bible story, is that we often base our decisions about whether or not to yield to a temptation on benefits vs cost. In the situation with the cookies, the kids didn't hesitate to eat the first one, even though they knew it was a violation of the usual rules. The reason was because the benefit - eating a delicious cookie - came without cost, because I had suspended enforcement of the rule. When the cost of breaking the rule suddenly went way up, however, they all found the strength to resist the temptation to indulge themselves immediately. The increased cost of yielding - and their awareness of it - was what made the difference.

Much has been written by many analyzing and speculating about exactly what the temptations were that the devil dangled before Jesus in the wilderness. To me, such analysis misses the larger point: Jesus could not have yielded to any temptation of Satan, regardless of what it was. The cost would simply have been too great. What was the cost? As God the Son come to earth, Jesus knew that His primary reason for assuming human form was to die for the sins of all humankind, so that when any of us put our trust in Him we then receive total forgiveness, and are thus able to live with Him forever when our mortal lives end. In order to be able to pay the price for all human sin, Jesus Himself had to go to the cross completely sinless. One stumble - one single moment of yielding to any temptation - and His ability to pay the price for all sin would have been gone forever. So even though Jesus could have yielded to the temptations of Satan if He had so chosen, there was no way He could ever have actually made such a choice. The cost would have been far too great - because the cost was US. We would all have been lost forever, and Jesus loves us far too much to have ever let that happen.

As with so many things, Jesus gives us a wonderful example in this week's Bible reading: always carefully weigh the cost of yielding to temptation. We need to keep our minds focused on the big picture when Satan and his demons dangle their goodies before our faces. We need to really think about what yielding is going to cost us in the long run, just as Jesus did when He was faced with temptation.

Let's all resolve to do our best, yielding ourselves to the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit for assistance, to follow Jesus' example by consistently saying 'no' to Satan, and 'yes' to God's plans for us.

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