A Turkish Bishop
Let me tell you about a man who loved Jesus.
His story is partially lost to history because he lived some 1700 years ago. Yet, some stories of his life remain. So lets sift through the mythology to see the faithful, and a little fiery, disciple.
He was born to a wealthy family in what is now Turkey. He grew up as a Christian. As a young man, after he had lost his parents and inherited their estate, he was convicted from the Scriptures of the need to be generous with his abundance. He didn't want his wealth to be a barrier to God's Kingdom, and he would rather store up riches in Heaven!
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" Jesus (Mt 6:19–21).
The story goes that one of his neighbours had three daughters of marriageable age. In those days to have much chance of a good marriage, the bride's family had to provide a monetary dowry. Problem was, this neighbour had fallen on tough times so marriages weren't on the cards, and they would soon be destitute unless some providential deliverance was provided.
The young man wanted to help, and he would embody the principle from Jesus: "when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret" (Mt 6:3–4). So at night, he would sneak up to his neighbours window and chuck a bag of money through the open window before scurrying away undetected.
He did this three times for the three dowries! But, the neighbour had caught on by the third attempt and rushed out to thank his merciful benefactor. Caught in the act, the young man pleaded for his identity to remain secret.
The young man grew in godliness, as did his reputation as a holy and righteous believer. He became a pastor, and eventually he was promoted to oversee all the churches in his region with the title Bishop.
In those days there was a heresy going around that Jesus was not God-himself. The false teaching asserted that Jesus was created, not eternal, and that he was not equal to God. The primary proponent of these ideas was a pastor named Arius.
This heresy grew, gaining popularity, so the church got together to nail down what they believed and why they believed it. This gathering is now referred to as the Council of Nicaea.
Our bishop was in attendance, and very concerned that the truth be defended. As is appropriate, everyone was given time to present their arguments and receive a fair hearing. Unfortunately our bishop was having difficulty keeping his temper in check! Attack after attack was launched on the divinity of Jesus by men who were meant to be Christ's representatives on earth. Eventually this bishop could take it no more!
He stood up and went over to the man defending Arian teaching (some say it was Arius himself) and the bishop struck the heretic across the face!
The assembly was gobsmacked!
That a bishop would loose such self control was crazy, they were meant to be an example of godliness to God's people!
The bishop was stripped of his bishop's uniform, chained and put in prison. He was so ashamed. He prayed for forgiveness.
There are different versions of the story from here, but the crux of it is that the penitent man was once again restored to his role as bishop (and he refrained from slapping Arians).
You may already know that the Council ended with the decisive conclusion that Arianism was heretical because it went against the Scriptures.
There are many other myths and legends about this bishop. But is suffices to say this man grew a great reputation for being merciful and generous while also being a staunch defender of biblical truth. A worthy ideal for any of us to adopt (without the assault!).
But who was this bishop? Did he have a name?
You may know him, he is often called Saint Nicholas, or if you're from Scandinavia: Santa Claus.
I hope you can look, not so much to the example of a sinful pastor from ancient Turkey, but to his God who provided through Christ such love, generosity and mercy that made Nicholas' own great kindness pale by comparison.
God rescues more than the destitute from poverty, His pure grace rescues dead sinners out of the grave.
"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Eph 2:4–11.
Receive God's grace in Jesus Christ! He is God-made-man who came in the flesh to bring salvation and redemption.