There is a man from history whom you have definitely heard of before. See if you can guess who it is.
He was a pastor and bishop long ago in a Greek city in Asia Minor called Myra.
He was known as the Wonderworker because there are many miracles attributed to him.
He forever will be remembered for his generosity to the poor and the lowly.
He is also known for his pugilistic intervention in one of the biggest church meetings in history.
Last clue: Though he was from an area that is now modern Turkey, he is often depicted as being from somewhere much colder.
It is Saint Nicholas!
Unlike the modern secularized myth of Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas of Myra is a real historical figure. His generosity to the poor, widow, and the fatherless is legendary. He is, in fact, the inspiration behind the myth.
Saint Nicholas Day is on December 6th. In order that we would be spurred on in good works toward our neighbor in faith toward God, I want to share two stories with you about this venerated pastor.
The first story is concerning Saint Nicholas’s generosity. The story goes that Saint Nicholas learned of a man who had three daughters.
The man had once been wealthy but had lost his wealth. He now did not have enough money to afford a dowery for his daughters. This meant that the girls would not be able to be properly married and would likely be reduced to a life of destitution.
Saint Nicholas, upon hearing about the tremendous need of this poor family and not desiring any recognition for what he was going to do, came to their house at night. He snuck up to the house and tossed a small purse containing gold coins into the house and snuck away.
The first daughter had a dowery! Then he did the same with the second and with the third. All three girls were able to get married and avoided a life of abject poverty.
The story goes that Saint Nicholas was caught in the act by the father when he was delivering the dowry for the third girl. His cover was blown! While Nicholas charged the man to tell no one about what he had done, here I am telling you the story today!
The second story about Saint Nicholas that I want to share with you was about when he went to the First Council of Nicaea.
The church had been split by a teaching that came from a man named Arius. Basically, Arius taught that Jesus was begotten of the Father, but that he was not c0-eternal with the Father and was therefore subordinate under him.
And, just incase you think this sort of thing is ancient history only, there are very popular theologians in America today who functionally hold this same teaching which was rejected at Nicaea because it is not consistent with scripture. We, as Bible believing Christians likewise reject this teaching. We confess that the son is coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. If you want to read more about what we believe, page 105-106 in the Ambassador Hymnal has a great summary.
Anyway, the story goes that during discussions and debates about the meaning of scripture concerning the divinity of Jesus, Saint Nicholas got upset. The teaching of the Arians made Jesus to be less than he really is and dishonored him. Saint Nicholas lost his temper and slapped “a certain Arian” across the face! Later retellings of this purported event made the certain Arian to be Arius himself.
Saint Nicholas believed in God’s Word and took its teachings so seriously that an attack against the teaching of Scripture were not a laughing matter to him. Whether he should have struck this man or not is a debate for another day. The very least we can learn from this story is that Saint Nicholas had a passion for Scripture and fervently defended its teachings.
Some of the stories of Saint Nicholas do have a mythical element to them and there are historians who have called the veracity of the stories in doubt. Just how accurate are these stories? We can’t really know.
That said, the stories live on and there is often a kernel of truth in these sorts of stories.
Why talk about Saint Nicholas? Why talk about the saints at all?
By remembering our brothers and sisters who have gone before us, we are reminded of a few things. 1) We aren’t the first ones to read the Bible or face difficulties because we are Christians. 2) In the midst of hardships, the saint’s faith in Jesus can encourage us in our faith in Jesus as we face similar hardships. 3) To encourage us be generous in our good works toward our neighbor.