From St Nicholas To Santa Claus


I recently asked my 3-year-old granddaughter – a major joy in my life – whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas time. “Uh,” she responded, “Santa Claus?” D’oh!

Some people think Santa Claus is upstaging Jesus. I remember a controversial cover of Christianity Today long ago, showing Santa Claus crucified on a cross, hung up by strands of Christmas lights. More recently, a group of atheists put Santa on billboards to encourage people to skip church at Christmas.

But Santa is based on the life of a real man whose generosity came from his following Jesus. Thus, Santa Claus actually points to Jesus.

Bill Federer has written much about how St. Nicholas became Santa Claus in his book, “There Really Is a Santa Claus,” which provides the basis for much of this article.

St. Nicholas (c. 270-343) was a real man. He served as a bishop in Myra, in what is modern-day Turkey. He was one of the 318 bishops who participated in the Nicene Council, which produced the Nicene Creed.

Nicholas directly opposed Arius, who was ruled a heretic because of his false teaching about the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. Arius’ proposed demotion of Jesus’ divinity caused the Council of Nicaea to be called in the first place.

Bishop Nicholas was a very generous man. He inherited a lot of money, and he gave away a lot of it anonymously. Nicholas reportedly said: “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”

Jesus said when you give, don’t be like the hypocrites who blow the trumpet and announce to all what they give. Instead, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Your Father who knows all things and sees what is done in secret knows when you are generous.

Nicholas was able to put these principles into practice before he became a bishop. Federer tells us that according to tradition, Nicholas learned of a merchant, who lost everything because of debt. The creditors threatened to seize his home, leaving the man and his three beautiful daughters with nothing.

He wanted to get his daughters married, lest they be seized by the creditors and sold into slavery and prostitution. But the man had no dowries for his daughters. A dowry was needed for any marriage to be legally recognized.

The first daughter was pledged to be married, but could not be without a dowry. One night, as the story goes, Nicholas anonymously threw a pouch of gold into the window of the home of the merchant for the dowry for the first daughter.

Then later, in the middle of another night, Nicholas did the same thing for the second daughter. The father then exclaimed, “O merciful God, Author of our salvation, Who hast redeemed me by Thine Own Blood and now redeemest by gold my home and my daughters from the nets of the enemy, do Thou Thyself show me the minister of Thy mercy and Thy philanthropic goodness. Show me this earthly angel who preserves us from sinful perdition. …”

Then came help for the third daughter. Again, St. Nicholas took some gold and tossed it into the house through the window. According to the legend, it landed in one of the stockings of the daughter that was hanging up by the fireplace to dry. This is the supposed source of the tradition of Christmas stockings.

The merchant got up, ran out, and caught St. Nicholas. Nicholas swore him to secrecy, and the father reportedly said, “If the Lord great in mercy had not raised me up through thy generosity, then I, an unfortunate father, already long ago would be lost together with my daughters in the fire of Sodom. Now we are saved through thee and delivered from a horrible fall into sin.”

Nicholas gave God alone the glory and in his humility and made the father swear that as long as Nicholas was alive, no one would know that he was the benefactor.

From the story of St. Nicholas has ultimately come the tradition of Santa Claus – whose name is derived from the Dutch way of saying St. Nicholas. But it all grows out of the Christian tradition.

D. James Kennedy and I point out in our book, “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?” that if there were no Jesus, there would be no Santa Claus. Thus, like so many other things in this world, when the truth is told about the origin of the Santa Claus, it points to the glory of our Lord.

And as radio broadcaster Paul Harvey was wont to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”


When God Closes a Door

Acts 16:1-15

Have you ever prayed about a situation, felt confident of God’s will, and made your plans, only to discover the door has suddenly slammed shut? Maybe it was relocation to another city, a relationship leading toward marriage, or a job opportunity that seemed so promising. Whatever the situation, the result was confusion, disappointment, and maybe even despair. What was God doing?

Paul and Silas had a similar experience on their second missionary journey. After originally intending to visit previous church plants, they instead decided to move into new territory with the gospel. But the Holy Spirit forbade them from going into Asia (modern-day Turkey). So they went north to Mysia with the intention of heading east to Bithynia. Yet once again the Holy Spirit closed the door.

At that point, they may have wondered why God would prevent them from preaching the gospel. After all, hadn’t Jesus given them the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20)? The answer came to Paul in a dream as the Lord redirected them to Greece—a nation with great metropolitan cities. From there, the gospel could spread more rapidly, and eventually Paul circled around to Ephesus, bringing the gospel to Asia. By the time John wrote Revelation, there were at least seven churches on that continent.

God often uses closed doors to redirect us into His perfect will and timing. Therefore, the wisest response is to rely on His infinite wisdom, wait for His clear direction, and follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings. God’s redirection brings blessing if we’ll simply trust and obey.

Paul and Titus

“To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 1:4)

On the surface, this verse might be considered insignificant and could easily be missed, for it is part of a lengthy greeting to Titus by Paul at the beginning of this very practical book. However, many nuggets are contained therein, and it is well worth our study.

Titus was one of Paul’s most trusted companions. He was a faithful worker who had accompanied Paul on a number of his journeys. Late in Paul’s life, after years of discipleship, Paul asked Titus to carry on the work he had started in Crete, an island well known for its deplorable moral state. Paul may have been instrumental in Titus’ initial conversion, for he calls him “mine own son,” literally “my true child,” a very endearing term. The bond of “common faith” gave them a mutual goal, and, of course, it is the same faith that we share today.

Paul greets Titus with “grace, mercy, and peace.” Grace is a manifestation of God’s love toward undeserving rebels, resulting in forgiveness and blessing. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Mercy is the attitude of God toward those who are in distress. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Peace comes as a result of the restoration of harmony between God and the forgiven one. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

This threefold blessing comes from both “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.” What a comfort to recognize both Father and Son as involved in the bestowment of all aspects of our salvation. JDM

The Wonder, the Mystery, the Majesty

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. —Matthew 17:6

Awesome wonder and overpowering love” in the presence of that ancient Mystery, that unspeakable Majesty, which the philosophers call the Mysterium Tremendum, but which we call our Father which art in heaven….

The evangelical rationalism which tries to explain everything takes the mystery out of life and the mystery out of worship. When you have taken the mystery out you have taken God out, for while we may be able to understand Him in some measure, we can never fully understand God.

There must always be that awe upon our spirits that says, “Ah, Lord God, Thou knowest!” that stands silent and breathless or kneels in the presence of that awful Wonder, that Mystery, that unspeakable Majesty, before whom the prophets used to fall, and before whom Peter and John and the rest of them fell down as if dead, before whom Isaiah recoiled and cried, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).

Lord, the disciples heard Your voice and fell on their faces before You, as did Isaiah when he caught a glimpse of Your glory. May I be overwhelmed today with a glimpse of the Mysterium Tremendum. Amen.

Secret Working of God

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7)

I do believe in the secret and mysterious working of God in the human breast. I must believe it after finding the forgiving and converting grace of God in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

My father and mother held high human standards, but completely without any thought of God. My parents appeared to be without any spark of desire after God; attitudes that were cold, earthy, profane.

Can you tell me why, then, at the age of 17, as a boy surrounded by unbelief—100 percent—I could find my way to my mother’s attic, kneel on my knees, and give my heart and life in committal to Jesus Christ?

I cannot tell you why. I can only say that I know there is such a thing as the secret workings of God within the human being who has a sensitivity to hear the call of God. In my own case, I do have the testimony that my conversion to Jesus Christ was as real as any man’s conversion has ever been!

My fellow man, if the Spirit of God is still tugging at your heart, thank God—and follow the light!

But their eyes were holden

But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.—Luke xxiv. 16.

The disciples had heard his voice so often, and gazed upon that marred face so frequently, that it is wonderful they did not discover him. Yet is it not so with you also? You have not seen Jesus lately. You have been to his table, and you have not met him there. You are in a dark trouble this day, and though he plainly says, “It is I, be not afraid,” yet you cannot discern him. Dear child of God, are you in this state? Faith alone can bring us to see Jesus. Make it your prayer, “Lord, open thou mine eyes, that I may see my Saviour present with me.”