Alan Keyes
Christ's present of liberty: Do Americans remember?
By Alan Keyes
December 27, 2016

    When you take the count of the sons of Israel, according to their tribes, then each man will give a ransom to the LORD to cover his soul, so that no harm befall them as they muster. ... And the money received, which was contributed by the sons of Israel, you will devote to the uses of the tabernacle of testimony, that it may be a memorial of them before the Lord, and he may be merciful to their souls. (Exodus 30:12-13, 16)

    I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)

    Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed him: If you abide in my word, you shall truly be my disciples. And you shall know the truth: and the truth will set you free. They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone." (John 8:31-36)

    And when they were come to Capharnaum, they that received the didrachmas, came to Peter and said to him: Doth not your master pay the didrachma? He said: Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying: "What is thy opinion, Simon? The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom, of their own children, or of strangers?" And he said: "Of strangers." Jesus said to him: "Then the children are free." (Matthew 17:23-26)
Jesus Christ was born into a time not unlike our own. It could have been confusing when it came to the true authority of government. As part of the Roman Empire, His people lived under Caesar's authority. But as an inhabitant of Judah, Jesus was also subject to the authority of King Herod. Herod levied a tax for the support of the Temple, which he had rebuilt to replace the Temple of Solomon, destroyed at the time of the Babylonian captivity, nearly six centuries before Christ was born.

This latter tax is the one in question when Peter is approached about paying the didrachma. Its amount and ultimate purpose appear to hark back to the offering God requires when, in Exodus 30:12, He directs Moses to take a count of the sons of Israel above the age of 20 and collect from each of them an offering to the Lord, for the security of their souls. Christ's question to Peter also brings to mind what Jesus said to the dove merchants (John 2:16) when He referred to the Herodian Temple as "my Father's house."

This reference reminds us that Christ is the Son of God. Given Christ's reasoning, He owes no tribute. For if the kings of the earth, mortal and necessitous, demand no tribute from their children, what sense does it make to think that the utterly self-sufficient Lord of heaven would do so? (cf., Luke 11:11-13) But even though the tax collectors ask about Christ alone, Christ's instructions send Peter to procure the amount needed to pay for Peter as well. Moreover, in explaining His decision to pay, He says, "But that we may not scandalize them..." – using a plural that seems to include Peter. By thus identifying Peter with Himself, Christ extends to him the freedom that, as the Son of God, Jesus possesses. Because he carries out Christ's instructions, Peter is set free from the bond he himself would otherwise have to pay.

Peter shows himself to be someone who abides by Christ's word. Being in this respect a true disciple of Christ, he is set free of the bond otherwise required for his security. Peter thus acts out the profession of faith that those other Jews who believe in Christ seem not yet prepared to act upon. For when Christ declares that being His disciples will set them free, they answer with pride, "We are the offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone." But isn't this false pride? For in Exodus we are told that the Egyptians "ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service" (Exodus 1:13-14).

God freed the descendants of Israel from this slavery. And the Temple in Jerusalem bore witness to this fact. Though we are told that the Jews who heard Christ in the Temple believed in Him, their prideful assertion of uninterrupted freedom forces us to wonder whether they knew the one whose words inspired them to believe. For if some sin of pride induced them to forget the national bondage from which God's power had set them free, how could they recognize that very power in the one He sent to free them, once and for all, from human bondage?

Not without reason did Christ remind them of enslaving sin, from which only the power of God, in Christ, can free humanity. Pondering the confusion that besets government in our own times, I cannot help but wonder if Americans who believe in Christ are not disposed to fall prey to the same pride-induced blindness. Does such blindness cut us off from knowing Christ in truth, even as it did some of His Jewish listeners? They were moved by the words He spoke, but did not yet conform to the Truth that, by His presence, He gave them the power, in their very souls, to become.

As they took such pride in being the children of Abraham, do we Americans take pride in being, as it were, the children of our own works? Though professing to be Christians, do we forget the freedom we achieve only in "the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free"; only in the freedom secured by our adoption into the lineage of Christ; only in the power of God's Word, "without whom nothing was made that was made"? Even now, as some pin their hopes on a boisterous champion of human self-healing, the slogan that mesmerizes hope exposes our consciousness of failure. What need is there to become great again if we ever were the authors of real greatness? In truth, it is not in our power.

That is why, in celebration of this good season, the tree of light and life is Christ Himself, our ransom from the death-enshadowed way of living that comes of refusing to trust in God. In this season, we remember Him in the form of a helpless child, much as we once were. But His childlike form ought also to remind us that the powerful presence of God – though it seems so tiny to us that we might lose sight of it altogether – is nonetheless great beyond measure, with the only kind of greatness that comprehends the vastness of all that is or ever will be. In Christ's presence, we can only be lost if we fail to abide in Him. For in Christ's way of being, God will find us, now and forevermore.

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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