Jesus was placed on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth, lifted up, at nine a.m. as we count time. It was the third hour of the day according to Jewish reckoning. Their day began at sundown, or around 6 PM, and was carved into four three hour watches, the last ending at sunrise, or 6 AM. [6-9 PM Evening Watch; 9-12 Midnight Watch; 12-3 AM Cockcrow; 3-6 AM Morning Watch]
The third hour of the day was the time of the morning sacrifice. The evening sacrifice took place around three in the afternoon, or the ninth hour.
How fitting Jesus was the first and last sacrifice!
From noon to three pm, (mid-day until the ninth hour), darkness was across the land and the wrath of God was poured out onto Christ. It was the cruelest three hours in creation’s history. Jesus had undergone much suffering, humiliation, physical beatings, abuse and agony in the hours before; and certainly, the pain and torture of being nailed to the cross was horrifying, yet it paled in comparison to that which he suffered in the three dark hours.
Preachers tell us God turned out the lights on that act so no one could see the justice; no one could see the suffering; no one could see the brutality as God looked away from his Son who had become our sin. At high noon, the sun straight up in the sky, there would be no shadow over the Messiah. No darkness at all, telling all who might see the symbolism – he who is light is about to become darkness for us. Jam 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Here is our
perfect gift in the sacrifice of Jesus. For three hours the Sun was not
seen. Nor was the light of the world.
It’s probably approaching ten am now. All three crosses are fixed in place, the Roman soldiers have stepped back to admire their handiwork and the crowds are allowed up close to pass by. We often picture, thanks to Hollywood and artists, gigantic crosses stretching toward the sky. In actuality, the crosses were probably only seven or eight feet high. Passersby could show their disgust by spitting upon the victims or striking them.
The two thieves
are not in as much pain as Jesus. They were not beaten or scourged on
this day; their only weariness comes from the trek up the hill carrying
their cross. The timing of their sentence no doubt fell to Roman
efficiency; they didn’t know they were fulfilling prophecy. The thieves
also had the benefit of the painkiller offered to victims of the cross.
They no doubt took it readily. Christ declined.
defends Jesus –
Now, he perceives Jesus’ innocence. “This man hath done nothing amiss.”
Ever wonder how he knew that? It wasn’t common practice for thieves and murderers sentenced to death to be allowed to roam the streets absorbing the culture and gossip until their date with destiny. This is a man who had been long locked up. He had no natural means of knowing “this man hath done nothing amiss.” It was a revealed knowledge.
Next, he calls Jesus “Lord.” From cursing and mocking to suddenly realizing where salvation stood. Phl 2:11 And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
More fruit is
manifest: he shows faith and belief. And he prays.
Luk 23:42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou
comest into thy kingdom. He got an answer immediately. He had been
instructed about eternal life – life after this fleshy existence. He
knew something of heaven. And all without the benefit of a preacher,
altar call, or living a life without sin. Imagine!
Even while His Son was about to bear the sins of the elect, the justice and punishment we deserved, God was giving life – the new birth to the vile creature who hung on the right hand of Christ. While Romans and Jews passed by, mocking, ridiculing, making great sport of our King, God was performing a heart operation next door. He was unstopping ears, giving spiritual sight to blind eyes and opening understanding. He was speaking grace, mercy and truth to a condemned man, taking away his sin and wickedness and placing on the cross next to it. And by so doing, he ensured and upheld the covenant he had made with Himself before the foundation of the world; not one of His elect would be lost.
While He was
dying on the cross, reconciling the world to Himself, He did not neglect
the least of His saints. While justice was being carried out on the
center cross, mercy was operating beside it.
During one of the most dreaded and important hours in history, the Holy Spirit is in operation, faithful to His elect.