In pop culture 3AM is when everything bad is supposed to happen. It’s known as the “witching hour”. 3AM has become a metaphor for when things fall apart and you hit rock bottom.
You can probably think of a few songs about 3AM and the accompanying thoughts of loneliness, depression, despair, and even suicide.
Matthew, who writes one of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, records a fascinating event that happened at 3AM. The disciples, including Matthew, are being tossed about in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.
The storm is so fierce the disciples think their life is over. They believe they are going down with the ship and out of nowhere they see a ghost appear on the water. I imagine they think this is the end because they are seeing dead people. But it wasn’t a ghost it was Jesus walking on the water toward them in their darkest storm.
Guess what time all of this was happening?
Right when they thought their life was over Jesus comes to them. He comes to them in a way they’ve never seen before or since.
Jesus walks right through the storm and rescues them.
Even if you are new to Christianity you’ve probably heard some reference to Jesus walking on water, but you may not know the circumstances surrounding this miraculous feat. Jesus wasn’t showing off… “Hey guys look at me! Bet you haven’t seen this one.”
No, the disciples were in a boat caught in a storm and they thought their life would be over. Jesus comes at the last minute right in the middle of their fear.
Matthew 14:24-27 NLT Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”
Have you ever had a 3AM moment when you were caught in a storm and you thought your ship was going down? You knew you weren’t going to make it.
Maybe it was when you heard the diagnosis…cancer…autism…MS. Maybe it was when you lost your job. Or the day your spouse said they wanted a divorce. Maybe it was when you found out your spouse is an alcoholic or was cheating on you. Or you didn’t get into the program you had been working towards for years with your degree. Your best friend betrayed you. You thought the relationship was headed toward marriage and now you just broke up. You had a miscarriage.
So many things that can upheave your life at any moment.
So many things can feel like a 3AM storm.
MY 3AM STORM
My 3AM moment came on Sunday, September 4, 2016. We had just finished the second service and ordaining one of our pastors. As I walked off stage some staff and key volunteers were waiting for me with my keys and jacket and said, “You need to go to the police station right now. Your wife is already on her way there.” Not something you expect to hear after pouring your heart out on stage. I respond, “What’s going on?” They said, “Just go. They have your son.”
I was so confused. My son who was 5 at the time was supposed to be at church with the rest of my family. So I started running to my truck I hopped in and called my wife to find out what was going on. She is crying and through her tears says, “They found our son.” “Who found him?” I ask. She says, “The police.” I was so confused. “What do you mean? Did he leave the school? Did he escape his classroom?” (At the time our church was meeting in a school) What she was telling me didn’t make any sense to me. Our son isn’t a runner. She is still crying and just managed to say, “No.”
“Did your parents have him?” I ask, still confused. Through her tears she said, “You left him at home.” “No I didn’t you brought him to church.” She said, “No, I didn’t.”
My head was spinning.
You see my wife and I typically leave at different times to go to church based on if she is singing. At the time she was singing quite a bit on the worship team, she needed to be there even earlier than I do for rehearsal and run through. On Sundays when she didn’t sing I was the one who would be leaving earlier for my run through.
Typically who ever left earliest would take the younger kids because they love being at church. They want to be there for as long as possible. The person who leaves later brings our middle schooler because they enjoy as much sleep as possible.
Once our kiddos get to church they would play with other volunteers’ children for awhile and then a staff member or key leader would check them into the kids’ programs for us since we are in various pre-service meetings.
This particular Sunday, my 12 year old daughter and I, were getting ready to go to church after my wife had left with the other children. We played music and were acting silly…neither one of us knowing he was still in his room buried under his covers sound asleep.
When I finally understood what my wife was saying and what had happened…a wave of grief and despair crashed over me. What in the world was my 5 year old son feeling? I cried the entire way to the police station. When I got there my wife was already there and my son was waiting on me. I picked him up in my arms and cried so much I’m sure it scared him. I apologized over and over…told him I had no idea he was in his room. I was so grateful he was safe, but the storm wasn’t over, it was just picking up steam.
We go in to speak with the officer and I thank him for keeping our son safe. My wife is slumped over in a chair. The officer had been telling her he doesn’t want to release our son to our custody…how we are terrible parents. And then he said he was thinking about arresting us both.
Arrest us? For what? It was an accident.
My wife is such a saint. She is so selfless. She is begging the officer saying please just arrest me. It was my fault don’t charge my husband.
Another person from church drove my wife to the police station and said you can’t charge him…he’s a pastor. The officer said, “What’s a pastor?” I knew I was in deep waters then. The other officer in the room said, “It’s like a priest.”
That officer asks us to step in another room and the two have a conference. He comes back and tells us we can go home for now and he is calling CPS (Child Protective Services) to do an investigation. He would join CPS later at our house.
We go back home and while we wait on CPS we ask our son what happened. He said, “Well I got up…no one was home…so I watched a little tv…played on my ipad then the battery ran down so I went and knocked on the neighbor’s house to see if they wanted to play. They weren’t home so I came back and sat on our driveway and was going to wait for you to come home. A lady on a walk asked me what I was doing and I said my parents left me at home and I’m waiting on them.”
The lady then calls 911 who thankfully makes sure our son was safe.
CPS comes to our house. She was a nice lady doing her job. She looks in our fridge to see if we have food. She and the officer goes through each room in our home. She interviews us. We try to help her understand what happened.
It’s not an easy thing to explain how a pastor’s family’s Sunday morning works. It’s even more difficult when someone doesn’t have a modern church background that includes kids programs. Most tv images of churches include kids sitting with their parents.
Then each one of our children are interviewed.
My wife and I are listening in the next room and crying as they ask our kids heart-breaking questions. I didn’t want my kids to know parents even did those kind of evil things to their kids.
The officer leaves after CPS conducts their first investigation and calls me an hour later asking if I’ll meet him at the station to pick up some paperwork.
I go to the station and he tells me he is going to arrest me and charge me with Child Endangerment.
It was the most surreal moment of my life. It was a pure accident. I had no idea my son was even at home and neither did my 12 year old daughter.
I was in the midst of a Category 5 Hurricane.
My court date was a week later. It was the longest week of my life.
So I go to my court date…so humbling. I stand before the judge. I had been in several court rooms with different people from our church as they stood before a judge, but now I found myself on the other side standing before a judge.
So many thoughts went through my head. I remember praying… “God you know my heart. You know I’m blameless before you in this. It was a pure accident. I trust you. I know that you are my true judge. God, I believe your promise that you will take all things and work them together for good. Protect your church. Protect my family whatever happens.”
This Easter season I thought about Jesus standing before Pilate as a truly innocent man. He didn’t forget anything or do anything intentionally or unintentionally. How must that have felt to be sentenced to a brutal beating and crucifixion knowing you were innocent?
On my day in court the charge was dismissed and sealed. The verdict was a huge relief.
But the storm wasn’t over. We still had the whole CPS investigation to go through. They have 60 days to make a decision which impacts your life in a completely different way. After 60 days of pins and needles and more home visits they rule that the charge was unfounded and they closed the case.
Man that was a rough season! In fact it was the toughest thing I’ve been through. I have a scar on my heart from it. I feel that my spirit walks with a limp because of that experience.
Most of the time when you do something wrong you know. For example, you know when you are speeding. You check your rearview mirror looking for an officer, you watch for braking tail lights in front of you, you check the medians for hiding troopers.
But what if you are doing something wrong right now and didn’t even know it?
What if you have committed a crime and you didn’t even know it?
I’m not talking about violating a statue of NYS. I’m talking about violating a law of the highest court. One set by the governing body of the Holy Trinity.
What if you are guilty of breaking the greatest law of all?
I’m sure you are pushing back right now and thinking, “I’m a good person. I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m not an evil person. I think my good outweighs my bad when you look at the totality of my life. Sure, I may have lied when the DMV asked me for my weight, but I haven’t done anything like the evil stuff CPS investigates.”
What in the world have I done to break God’s law?
Your crime is not being perfect. God’s law doesn’t expect you to be good, God’s law expects you to be innocent.
We know we aren’t perfect. We know we don’t live up to our own standards much less God’s. We know we aren’t being the best versions of ourselves. We’re even embarrassed by the thoughts we have from time to time.
Because we aren’t perfect we have to stand to face the charge against us.
As the Scriptures say, “No one is good—no one in all the world is innocent.” –Romans 3:10TLB
Maybe you push back and say, “I’m a good person. I’ve done a lot of good in my life!”
I don’t disagree with that. I’m sure you have!
Imagine me telling the officer… “I’ve spent my life helping children. Because of my life and ministry kids in our community never go hungry over school breaks. Those same children get back-to-school clothes. Because of my life and ministry 140+ children in Haiti have access to healthcare, food, and schooling. 3 villages full of children in Africa have clean water for generations to come. Children wake up with a mom and a dad because of the marriages that have been restored through my work at the church. I’m a good person, certainly all the good in my life should outweigh this one accidental moment.”
It didn’t matter.
It didn’t even matter that my wife wanted to take my place.
I had to answer for my actions even though they were unintentional.
What’s the penalty for the law you broke? It’s not 1 year in jail or $1,000 fine. It’s much worse.
…The payment for sin is death. But God gives us the free gift of life forever in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 6:23NCV
It doesn’t matter whether you think the charge is fair or not. You have to answer the charge.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that God is offering you a plea deal.
THE PLEA DEAL
Here’s the plea deal: You admit you’re guilty and Jesus pays the penalty.
The payment is death. Either you pay or Jesus pays.
You may think that sounds like a mean God but really it’s quite the opposite.
He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. –Ephesians 1:7 NLT
You admit you’re guilty and Jesus pays the penalty.
Something amazing happens after you admit you’re guilty and accept Jesus’ payment…your status changes from guilty to not guilty.
He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. –Colossians 2:14NLT
As I was writing this…just reading those words made me cry.
Take the deal. It’s the best deal you’ll ever get. God sent you here to read these words so you would know the truth.
One day you and I will stand before the Judge of all judges and when He asks you who will pay for you not being perfect you can’t say you didn’t know.
God will point to today’s date on the calendar and say, “Yes you did. You read the story of that bald pastor being arrested and he told you the truth, but you were too prideful to admit that you are guilty. You were too prideful to take the plea deal.”
When the judge said my charge was dismissed the biggest weight was lifted off my shoulder. It was feeling freedom and knowing what that meant. When CPS came back 60 days later and said unfounded, case closed, man it felt like a cloud lifted off my life!
I want you to experience that same feeling.
Not only are you not guilty, your charge is sealed.
…you were sealed for the day of redemption. –Ephesians 4:30 NIV
What are you going to do about the charges against you? Try to pay for it yourself or take Jesus’ plea deal. Somebody has to pay…God leaves the choice to you. Eternity weighs in the balance.
That’s the Christian message Jesus took our guilt and paid for it on the cross. Everything we have ever done. He satisfied the requirements of the law for every one of our sins. He is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.
Some of you have accepted God’s plea deal, but you still feel guilt and shame about your past.
Man, with that charge I felt so attacked in my identity and in my calling. My calling to be a father, to be a pastor, to be a man of integrity. It was like an arrow to my heart in one shot. It felt like all of those things came crashing down.
I reached out to several pastors during this time…help I’m drowning! Almost everyone of them said they had left a child some where, most of them had left a child at church. One of the pastors, a real character, said… “Mary and Joseph forgot Jesus for 3 days and he turned out okay.”
There was something reaffirming knowing I wasn’t the only loser out there. The phrase “all have sinned” has that same feeling that we have all messed up…anyone who claims they haven’t is a liar.
DID YOU KNOW?
When you take Jesus’ plea deal Satan is going to be angry. Just as much as God loves you Satan hates you. He is going to try to keep you stuck in guilt and shame over your past.
He’s going to whisper… “Did you know…” And he is going to pull out your rap sheet. Did you know they committed adultery…were an alcoholic…filed for bankruptcy…been divorced…been arrested.
Anytime someone starts with “Did you know…” nothing good is coming after it. That person doesn’t have anyone’s best interest in mind but their own. It’s a good sign that’s someone you shouldn’t be hanging around.
Whenever you hear Satan say, “Did you know…” I want you to say, “That was dismissed! Those charges were unfounded, case closed, and the records sealed!”
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. –Romans 8:1 NLT
I want you to live as God sees you.
God sees you as His beloved child. The object of His deep love.
Don’t let Satan who is the great accuser of the brethren whisper in your ears things that God has sealed. Don’t let him or anyone else try to pour guilt and shame on you.
So how do you accept God’s plea deal?
It starts with a simple admission in the form of a prayer…
Jesus, I believe you are who you said you are. The Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to the Father. I ask that you forgive me of my sins and come into my life and make all things new. Amen.
You may be going through your own 3AM storm right now, but this isn’t the end. The winds and waves still know His name. God promises to bring good out of whatever you are going through.
Jesus is reaching out to you in the middle of your storm and saying, “Don’t be afraid. Take courage. I am here!”