In the entirety of human history, there are no more crucial hours recorded than the six hours our Lord and Savior hung upon the cruel cross on Golgotha’s hill. There’s a popular song that has a line “…and the darkest hour, is just before dawn.” True, in nature. But the darkest hour in history occurred on the day Christ was crucified.

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.

Mar 15:27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.
Mar 15:28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. 29 And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest [it] in three days, 30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross. 31 Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.  32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

Jesus was placed upon the cross before the other two. He was the reason for the day’s events; the others were due to be put up at the next convenient time. Christ was on the cross at the time of the morning sacrifice, placing Him there around nine. The malefactors, if the Romans were diligent and efficient, were in place by nine-thirty.

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.

Mar 15:23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received [it] not.

Matthew says those around began to mock Him.

Mat 27:42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
Mat 27:43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

Near the end of the first hour, the thieves also mocked Him.

Mat 27:44 The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

But then, at some point between ten am and noon, a transformation occurs in one of the thieves.

Luk 23:39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
Luk 23:40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
Luk 23:41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
Luk 23:42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
Luk 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Luk 23:44 And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.

A change takes place. Whether born again on the cross, or converted under the very presence of God, evidences of grace show forth from this criminal. In an hour, he has undergone a transformation. From railing and blasphemy, from participating in the world’s evil, from cursing and mocking the one beside him, the thief’s change is dramatic.

First, he defends Jesus –

Luk 23:40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?

Second, he shows a fear of God he didn’t have before. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Luk 23:41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.

Third, he understands something new about justice. “We receive the due reward of our deeds.” Does this sound like a man who has been shown his depravity?

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!

Luk 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

What a remarkable change! On the day in which the Creator of the universe would see His only begotten Son beaten, humiliated and put to death, indeed, on the very day when He would experience a first ever separation from Christ, God still cares enough about a poor wretched miserable sinner, a convicted thief and murderer, a man who is at that very hour shouting blasphemies at His very beloved Son – to send His Holy Spirit.

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.

John 5:25 says Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

The hour is coming. That means it will take place in the future. And now is. That means it’s occurring right now. It takes place every hour.

During one of the most dreaded and important hours in history, the Holy Spirit is in operation, faithful to His elect.

Brother Royce Ellis