Approaching the Throne of Grace
by Pastor George Van Alstine
I remember, as a kid, being in church prayer meetings when an old deacon would rise up and say in a solemn voice, “LET US APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE.” We’d all close our eyes and bow our heads, and the deacon would drone on, rather predictably, about some things we were asking of God, good health, success in our ventures, protection from the forces of evil. So for me, the phrase “THRONE OF GRACE” has a heavy, serious, unexciting feel to it. It’s a part of my faith tradition I have to endure, rather than enjoy.
But it just occurred to me that this concept is really spiritual dynamite! The THRONE of GRACE — there’s a tension here. THRONE implies absolute, potentially ruthless power. GRACE implies a disposition of generosity and altruism. THRONE threatens the answer NO. GRACE promises the answer YES.
Judy and I have been watching the Showtime series “Tudors,” which chronicles the life and times of England’s King Henry VIII, including all six of his wives. This was a period of history when the King’s word was law, and when common folk had virtually no rights. Even the Queen, when she disobeyed (by not having a male child, for instance), could be summarily executed. The King’s highest-ranking courtiers were required to be totally submissive, saying “Yes, your Majesty” to his slightest whim. He, for his part, would refer to them as “Your Grace,” but this was not necessarily a sign of favor, for he might be saying, “You’ll be beheaded in the morning, Your Grace.” There was not much true GRACE at the THRONE of King Henry VIII!
Even people who are familiar with the Biblical view of God as King may have some trouble putting together the ideas THRONE and GRACE. The Old Testament establishes a pattern of seeing God as “King of kings,” the one who conquers all other rulers and authorities by force. And the end times picture of God as the dispenser of Judgment continues this stern, angry impression of what to expect at his throne.
So how did this old deacon come up with the idea of a THRONE of GRACE, and why did he want us to APPROACH it? Well, the answer is in a wonderful New Testament passage of Scripture:
“Since, then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Jesus has changed the throne of harsh, absolute judgment into the THRONE of GRACE! By becoming a human being, he entered into all our human frailty, struggles, troubles and trials. This makes him “sympathize with our weaknesses.” And because of this profound identification with us, God is now gracious toward us. He is leaning in our direction us, anxious to say YES, rather than drawing back, primed to say NO. Because of Jesus, he sits on a THRONE of GRACE.
Basically, the old deacon had it right when he said, “Let us approach the Throne of Grace.” He should have added two things, however. First, he should have quoted a couple of more words from the Scripture text: “Let us approach the Throne of Grace WITH BOLDNESS.” The door of access is not just ajar; GRACE has kicked it wide open, and we are invited to run in like the King’s children. Second, he should have been animated and excited when he invited us to pray, rather than using his churchy voice. That would have made the whole idea of praying more inviting to a young boy.