According to the Law of Moses, sacrifices were made in the Jewish Temple three times each day – at the third, sixth, and ninth hour of the day. The daylight part of the day was reckoned to start at 6:00 a.m., so these are the hours we would call 9:00 a.m., 12 noon, and 3:00 p.m. When we look closely at the Gospel accounts, we see certain events at the death of Jesus corresponded exactly with these three times of offering.
1) The Gospel of Mark tells us that “ … it was the third hour when they crucified him” (Mark 15:25 ESV). This is when the actual crucifixion took place when Jesus was nailed to the stake or cross on which he offered up his body – at the exact time of the morning sacrifice – although it was a number of agonizing hours before Christ died.
2) Mark also tells us “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33 ESV). This darkness – that began exactly at the time of the mid-day sacrifice and lasted till about 3:00 pm – symbolized the weight of all sin that was placed upon Christ, as he temporarily was separated from God, sacrificing his relationship with the Father. This separation was expressed “about the ninth hour” in his anguished words “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
3) Finally, Luke tells us, at the ninth hour or 3:00 pm, at the time of the so-called “evening prayers” and the last sacrifice of the day: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46) – he gave up his very life.
So the sacrifice of Jesus literally spanned all three of the sacrificial offering times of the day of his death – the morning, noon and evening offerings. At the third hour he was crucified and offered up his body. At the sixth hour he was cut off - he temporarily sacrificed his relationship with God. At the ninth hour he died – he gave up life itself.
Interestingly, in his epistle to Titus the apostle Paul tells us, regarding Christ’s sacrifice, that “He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works” (Titus 2:14). Although Paul was not speaking directly of the three aspects of the sacrifice of Christ in saying these three things, his words are relevant in reminding us of how the three aspects apply to us.
When Paul writes that Christ “… gave himself to redeem us...” we should remember that, biblically, redemption is accomplished by substituting one person or thing for another. In offering up his body, Christ acted as a substitute and redeemed us – the first point Paul makes. In the same way, when Paul says it was to “cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession” we should remember that Christ temporarily sacrificed his relationship with his Father because of the burden of sin placed upon him, in order that we could have a relationship with God – to be a part of the people of God. Finally, when Paul says the people of God would be “… eager to do good works” we see a result of the third sacrifice – of Christ’s life – and we see how this applies to us in Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans:
“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).
In saying we should sacrifice ourselves as “an instrument of righteousness” Paul means, of course, to do good works – exactly as he writes in Titus 2:14 (and see Titus 3:8, and Ephesians 2:10). It is a command that is clearly echoed in the Book of Hebrews: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).
So while Paul’s mention, in his letter to Titus, of the three aspects of the sacrifice of Christ are not tied directly to the three sacrifices of the day of the crucifixion, his words give us cause for reflection and remind us of our own responsibilities in accepting the three parts of Christ’s offering. We too need to offer our bodies as a sacrifice to God, we too need to do whatever we can to help others find fellowship with him, and we too need to offer the sacrifice of our lives – the time we are given – to the cause of good works. To the extent that we are following him, the three aspects of Christ’s sacrifice will be reflected in our lives also.