As we move through lent, it is a time of reflection, introspection, self-evaluation and a moment of truth with the person in the mirror. This is my spiritual highlight of the year. I live in the southern hemisphere and now it is autumn.
To experience lent in a time where the earth is “going to rest” must be different from experiencing it in spring. To us the loss of leaves, colour, fruit, adornment and a return to absolute basics is evident wherever we look.
Personally, this is my measurement time. I see what has changed, what has grown and what has died. I look at my life, my perceptions and try and imagine what my life would look like to God. It is also the time that I plant seed. I look forward and discover what I believe should change in my life to move closer to God.
It is strange how the journey over the last few years has moulded me into something that I hope will become useful to God, His church and body. I have shed a lot of tears, lost a lot of things, and I have wilfully given up on some ideas and concepts.
There are some things that I had to give up very reluctantly, but this is the promise that I can personally make to you – whenever you give something up, the return is soooo much greater than you can expect. Sometimes the return is not what you would expect at all. You may sacrifice financially, only to discover that God has given you people that genuinely care for you in return.
Then during this time, I wondered why sacrifice is such an important ingredient. I did touch on it somewhat in a previous post - Why do we need to struggle? – but I believe it is a question on it’s own, and worthy of a full post.
This post focusses on giving up, why we give up, and why do we as Christians believe it is a vital “ritual” to sacrifice, to let go and to willingly open our hands to release things that the world may see as precious, valuable, worthy of chasing, and some may see as a prize to be gained after ambitious struggle.
The basis of all of the willing sacrifice comes from: (Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said: “Follow Me”…)
Matthew 16:24-26 (NIV) - Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
There are two different instructions from Jesus:
• “take up their cross and follow me”
• “deny themselves” + “whoever loses their life for me will find it”
I believe that there are areas when the Bible contain literal instruction sets. Things that must be obeyed, followed, unquestioning, unwavering and unrelenting. These two instructions, I believe fall into this category. These two instructions have been central to my life for the past couple of years, and it is only quite recently that I became aware of a wondrously hidden gem.
If you are in a Christian church, almost irrespective of the denomination, you will at some point be exposed to the 12 articles, the Apostles’ creed or the declaration of faith. There is variation of some of the wording, depending on the specific church you belong to, but it’s base content is the cornerstone of what all Christians believe.

The Apostles' Creed, or the Twelve Articles of The Christian Faith.
1. I believe in God the Father [Isa. 44:5-6], Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth [Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Acts 14:15]:
2. And in Jesus Christ [Luke 2:11; John 20:28], his only begotten Son [John 3:16], our Lord [John 20:28]:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost [Luke 1:35], born of the Virgin Mary [Luke 1:27]:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate [Luke 23:24]; was crucified [John 19:20; Acts 4:10], dead [1 Cor. 15:3] and buried [1 Cor. 15:4]: He descended into hell [Acts 2:24, i.e. the grave]:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead [1 Cor. 15:4]:
6. He ascended into heaven [Luke 24:51; Acts 1:11], and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty [Mark 16:19; Heb 1:3; 10:12]:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead [John 5:22; 2 Tim. 4:1]:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost [John 15:26; 16:7-8, 13]:
9. I believe in the holy catholic [universal] church [Gal. 3:28; 1 Tim. 3:15]: the communion of saints [Acts 2:44; Heb. 10:25]:
10. The forgiveness of sins [Luke 7:48]:
11. The resurrection of the body [1 Cor. 15:52-54; 1 Thess. 4:16]:
12. And the life everlasting [John 10:28; 17:2]. Amen [Eph. 3:21; Rev. 7:12].

Hidden inside this statement of faith is a wonderful gift, Jesus was:
• conceived – This in plain English means that Jesus willingly gave up his spiritual nature to become one of the creations that He was instrumental in creating. He gave up timeless, limitless and unconstrained being, to be one of us.
• Born – I cannot comment about the consciousness of Jesus during the birthing process, but while I was researching for a novel, I discovered that birth is a traumatic event for a human. Jesus could have chosen not to experience this event, and elected to “appear”, but He did not.
• Suffered – Suffering unjustly at the hands of someone that you don’t even know, does not know you, what you believe, what you stand for and who you are is in a sense the worst kind of suffering. I imagine it can be likened to slavery, but I am not able to comment on this. All I know for sure is that Jesus was willing to suffer the worst kind of rejection, humiliation, humanity depriving and painful human experience.
• crucified – A lot of Christian attention is lavished on this element, and I would like you to remember was that Jesus made a conscious choice to undergo this. I would simply like to point towards the combination of physical pain, utter humiliation and the spiritual separation from God His Father.
• died – I am willing to challenge any person alive today to tell me what this is like to die. I know that very few people do not fear death. It is one of our primal fears, and we will do almost anything to escape it. Jesus chose to experience it – for me and you.
• buried – This I believe is not a spiritual experience, but the symbolic gesture of placing your body under the earth is something that scares some people. The symbol of returning to dust and the “rest” after the salvation of the living has been completed is important to remember and burial is also the proof that Jesus died physically.
• descended into hell – This is so scary to humans that they will do anything to avoid thinking about it. We do not really know what hell is about, except there is an absence from God. With God’s presence unavailable, Jesus had to face hell alone, by himself. He had to confront Satan, the horrors that exist there and all the bad things we learned in Sunday school alone. Even when facing all this Jesus still ministered to the souls already there.
• rose from the dead – Triumph and joy. I have won a few things in my life, and I can tell you that the moment you do the air-punch, you remember what it took from you to get there. Jesus came back to life, and I cannot imagine that He did that with amnesia of what He had to do to obtain the victory. From His resurrection to ascension, it must have been agonizing, His fully realised spirit captured within a human body. Jesus won the battle, achieved what needed to be achieved, but still he had to wait before He could return home to His Father.

For some reason we don’t realize that Jesus’ live changed drastically for the worse the moment He elected to start sharing God’s will for all people. During his life he experienced rejection, humiliation, shame, pain, suffering, temptation, hunger, isolation and torment. Jesus mingled with some of the worst, and some of the best. Jesus had to endure the ignorance and lack of faith of those around him. Jesus suffered betrayal and was denounced by His best friend on earth.
It is a grim picture if I start counting all the negative experiences Jesus faced for me. I don’t know if my sin added to the suffering endured by Jesus, but even if it was a millisecond, I will spend eternity thanking and praising Jesus for this price he paid for me.
I am personally overwhelmed by the amount of gratitude.
Mercy now becomes a very big concept to me.
I think that the thought that is even bigger than this is the realization that Jesus did this for me before I was saved. Jesus did this before I was aware of His love. This was done while He did not know that I will accept His offer of salvation.
Then as the marketing slogans of today proclaim – BUT THERE IS MORE!!
Jesus is alive, eternally, forever and right now. At this very second while you are reading this, He is standing before His Father, defending me, and you and every person you will ever meet.
Hebrews 7:25 (NIV) - Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

How great must God’s love be for us then?

2 Thessalonians 3:16 (NIV) Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

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Author's Bio: 

Anton van den Berg is a normal person. I have no specialized theological training but I have led a life of hard and tough lessons. Like silver, I had to be taken to the furnace to get rid of a lot of impurities. In that process, I have learned to let certain things go, and to attach to other values. These posts represent some of the pivotal growth-moments in that journey. I hope that it would assist you on your journey in some way. May God Almighty, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit be with you.