The image of jolly St. Nick has become entwined with the celebration of Christmas. St. Nick, often called Santa Claus, is usually portrayed as a chubby man with a white beard dressed in a red coat trimmed with white fur carrying a big bag of presents for good little children. In the modern telling of the story, he lives at the North Pole and drives a sleigh pulled by magical flying reindeer. But, the original Santa was far more than a jolly fat man.
The real name of St. Nick is Nicholas. He lived from A.D. 270-343 and he was the bishop of the city of Myra (located in modern Turkey) during the time of the Roman Empire. In his city there were many poor families, and he became known for bringing gifts to poor children, especially in the middle of winter when they did not have enough food to eat. There was a family with three young girls who did not have the money to pay for a dowry in order to be married. Nicholas dropped three bags of gold down their chimney so they would be rescued from a life of prostitution.
In A.D. 325, the Roman Emperor Constantine called three hundred Christian bishops, including Bishop Nicholas, together to the city of Nicaea. The question which brought these church leaders together was, “Who is Jesus Christ?”
At that meeting, there was a man name Arius who preached that Jesus is just a man, not God in human flesh. He led a group of bishops who said Jesus was the best man who ever lived and was a man sent on a special mission from God. They even believed that Jesus was the “son of God” because God had adopted him. But, they refused to teach that Jesus was the same substance as God. In the Greek language, they insisted that Jesus is homoi ousia, or “another substance” from God.
But another group of bishops insisted that Jesus is God in human flesh, fully God and fully man. They quoted John 1:1-3,14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” They pointed to Matthew 9:2 where Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man which proves that Jesus is God. In Greek, they said Jesus is homo ousia the “same substance” as God the Father.
The reason this matters is because if Jesus is the same substance as the Father, He is worthy of worship and He is capable of forgiving the sins of the whole world. But, if Jesus is just a man, then He can be neither Lord nor Savior.
The only difference between the words homoi ousia and the words homo ousia is one Greek letter, the iota, which is the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet. Yet, this one letter made a huge difference in who the church thinks Jesus is. Remember that the next time you hear the phrase, “It matters not one iota.”
That’s where St. Nicholas enters the story. One day during the conference, Arius was insisting that Jesus is not God and Nicholas became so bothered by his blasphemy that he walked over to Arius and slapped him across the face. The bishops were stunned at his behavior because it was unthinkable for a respected bishop to slap another bishop. They almost kicked Nicholas out of the conference, but the emperor Constantine allowed him to apologize and stay.
After more debate, the entire conference realized that Nicholas was right. Jesus really is the Son of God, incarnated as a human being. Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” Because of their new understanding of the deity of Jesus, the bishops wrote the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven; He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried. The third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.”
So, the real St. Nick preached the Gospel, gave food to poor children, rescued girls from sex trafficking, and stood up against false teaching in the church. The next time you think about Santa Claus, instead of imagining him patting his belly and laughing, “Ho, ho, ho” try thinking about him as a bishop slapping a man for preaching heresy about Jesus. Nicholas realized that Jesus is God. He believed that Jesus can save people from their sins. He preached about an incarnate God who came to take away the sins of the world by dying on the cross. Nicholas really is a Christmas hero, because today we celebrate the same truths.
Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We celebrate the fact that Jesus came to set us free from the power of sin. As an evangelist, I want to say thank you for sending our family to nations around the world to tell people about the Living God who became a man in order to make a way for all of humanity to get to heaven.
Preaching About the Reason for the Season,
P.S. This Christmas, would you give a Christmas gift for the sake of the Gospel? Your financial help is crucial during this holiday season as we prepare to do Gospel Crusades in 2019. Thank you for your faithful giving! To give, click here: http://kingministries.com/give.html