God's grace shows up in the strangest places and surprises us with its simple transforming power. Four times in the last month, with four different young women from four different countries on three different continents, the Spirit has led me to share a little insight out of the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew. Yes, you read that correctly: out of the genealogy of Jesus — the part of the Bible most of us skip, skim, or speed read.

Each of these young women come from difficult circumstances — one wishes her early sexual history were different, two others come from homes that were an absolute mess but they have sought to live good lives despite the mess their parents have left them, and another was pregnant and unmarried, struggling with thoughts of suicide and shame. Each of them wonders if God's grace is really open for them because of their culture, their family history, or their own struggle with sin. So there, in a list of names, three sets of fourteen generations, they found grace, hope, and a discovery that they can be part of Jesus' family and be caught up in God's story of grace.

When you read the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:2-17), you find a list of ancestors to Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. This list is a little different from most Bible genealogies. First, it has five women in the list, when most genealogies do not mention women:

  • Tamar (Matthew 1:3).
  • Rahab (Matthew 1:5).
  • Ruth (Matthew 1:5).
  • Bathsheba [not listed by name, but clearly implied] (Matthew 1:5).
  • Mary the mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

Second, these women all have "problems" associated with them — they come from messy situations:

  • Tamar, a young widow, was pregnant before she was married and dressed as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into sleeping with her.
  • Rahab was a prostitute who lived on Jericho's wall and who hid Israel's spies — she believed that Israel's God offered her a way of preserving her family and beginning a new life.
  • Ruth was a foreigner whose husband died and whose faithfulness to her mother-in-law opened the door for God's laws about caring for the poor and not leaving a widow abandoned opened the door for her to begin a new life.
  • Bathsheba committed adultery with King David, yet became the mother of David's rightful heir to the throne, Solomon.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, was pregnant (by the Holy Spirit's power) before she was married to Joseph — a fact that folks in Nazareth seemed to remember and use against Jesus.

Some of these situations were scandalous. Others were great displays of faithfulness and courage, no matter how they may have appeared to others when they happened. None of these situations were the usual things mentioned in genealogies that often tried to put people in the best possible light. Yet, each of these women played a huge role in God's unfolding story of deliverance and redemption that brought us Jesus, the Savior of the world, that we find in the Bible.

So when presented with these stories about Jesus' line of ancestors, I asked one of the young women struggling with her worthiness what this list of names meant for her. She replied: "If these women who come from such messes could be part of Jesus' story, then I can, too!"

"That's right!" I said, "you got the message the Holy Spirit was trying to leave for us in this list of names. He wants you to know that you belong just as much as these women did. And God wants you to know that you can be a part of His story because you have responded to his love and grace with faith."

If these women can be part of God's story, I can, too!
"I know," she smiled, "and that is why I am glad I am a Christian."

Over the next ten months or so, we will look at God's unfolding story in the Bible. We will call this grand saga of grace, directed and planned by God, the Upper Story. Yet this Upper Story is filled with all sorts of lower stories — stories of the lives of individual people as they struggled, achieved, overcame, and discovered God's plan to fit them into his Upper Story.

The Bible is full of all sorts of lower stories so that we can meet people like us who get caught up into God's grand Upper Story. When we see people like us caught up in God's great saga of grace, we know that we can be part of his Upper Story, too.

Don't be a stranger to God's great story of grace. Don't be afraid of the Bible and its stories. Come along and learn how your lower story is actually part of God's Upper Story. Your life matters to the Father and your story is part of something grander than you have ever imagined. Come on and join me as we enter The Story!

I invite you to read along with a number of other churches and Heartlight friends as we journey through the Bible in 31 weeks in a plan called "The Story." You can get a special Bible designed for this journey — learn more about it and other resources here: http://hlt.me/NNrkuw — or you can read the readings with the links built in to take you to the passages — check out here: http://hlt.me/S8QxUy. Either way, there is so much more material to explore and discover with many resources to help you.