The Sixth Hour
High-noon conjures up images of western towns, renegade tumbleweeds, and sauntering outlaws. The showdown on main street has been the subject and climax of many westerns. The tension at noon would run high as two men squared off with the sun high in the sky. At midday, the 6th hour, on Good Friday in the book of Luke, a meeting of epic proportions takes place on Calvary. Two criminals face Jesus and tensions run high; so high that the physical world (under the control of God) weighs in during the interaction.
Jesus was crucified between two criminals. Most likely they were Barabbas’ men who hung there. It is likely that Barabbas was the one who was supposed to be hanging between them. One of the criminals made use of their unstructured time affixed to the cross by mocking Jesus. Apparently he was familiar with the work that Jesus was doing and the reputation he had gained. He said: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23.39)
The other criminal’s words were profound. He understood that their punishment was just, getting what they deserved. He saw in Jesus, innocence.
Luke has a heart for the outcast. Be it physically impaired, women, the poor, or gentile. There is no person to small, to despised, or too ostracized for Luke to take notice of. In Mark, written for a Roman audience, the great confession at the cross came from a Roman Centurion. John saves the great confession in his book for a post-resurrection account from the mouth of Thomas, a man who finally believes. Luke, though places the statement of the identity of Jesus on the lips of a condemned criminal. Just like in his ministry and so too in his death, Jesus spends his time with losers, outcasts, and downtrodden.
They were at his birth (Luke 2.8), showed great faith in the midst of trials (Luke 7), anointed and worshipped him (Luke 7.36ff), healed by his hand (Luke 8,40ff.), the hero in his stories (Luke 10.29ff), and called to make dinner (Luke 19). Jesus refused to give up on the outcast.
As the sun shined the brightest, at noon that Friday, a criminal, an outcast stepped from darkness into the light of a relationship, based on trust, with Jesus.
But also at noon that Friday, the sixth hour (Luke 23.44), when the sun was supposed to shine the brightest, the land became dark and the sun stopped shinning.
While on the cross, Jesus became the sin we commit (2 Cor 5.21) and the curse we deserve (Gal. 3.13). Darkness was a sign of judgment (Amos 8.9-10) and even Jesus would ask why God had forsaken him (Matt 27.46 quoting Ps. 22.1) The Greek word for ‘forsaken’ [enkataleipo] is the same word Paul used when his buddies ‘deserted’ him in 2 Timothy 4.10, 16. Jesus felt the distance between him and his Father. It was no longer “Abba, Abba” but “My God, My God”. His relationship with his heavenly Father was stressed and strained. The physical sign of this was the darkness that overtook the land.
When the sun was supposed to be at its brightest, the darkness over took the land.
One man entered the light and the world was dark. Isn’t this the story of life? The darkness of the world, the sin surrounding us, yet we can still see the light of Jesus. Jesus was hanging there, surrounded by the insulting crowds, the mocking authorities, between the crucified sinners, as physical darkness sets in. The darkness is all to familiar. Its made up of selfish ambitions, painful suffering, inward focus, divorce, cancer, greed, addiction. Like the criminals, we have done plenty to deserve our cross. But we are called out of this darkness into a relationship with Jesus. A relationship with him, who knows what it is like to be innocent and pure, but also to feel betrayed, abandoned, tortured, and forsaken. And like the criminal who saw the truth and innocence in Jesus, we too cannot help but be drawn to him.
In the 6th hour, midday, one man entered the light and the land descended into darkness.