So, what’s the world’s tallest building? For some 41 years, New York’s Empire State Building, completed in 1931, enjoyed that distinction at 1,250 feet. Since then, many others have surpassed it, including the World Trade Center Twin Towers completed in 1973 at 1368 feet (destroyed 9-11-01), The Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) in Chicago in 1974 at 1450 feet, the 1,483-foot Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1998, the 1,670-foot Taipei 101 building in Japan in 2004, and then in 2010, the 2,717-foot BurjKhalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Wow, it reaches up more than a half mile!). The Empire State Building now ranks only about 17th!
From ancient times, man has tried to distinguish himself through monuments of all kinds. One of the most significant mentioned in Scripture is recorded in Genesis chapter 11 where we read: “Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east (after the Flood), that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there… And they said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth'” (vv. 1,2,4). The city was called Babylon and the tower, Babel, and they were built in order to prevent people from scattering through the earth, in direct defiance of God’s clear command in Gen. 9:1: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.'” This tower was a rallying point and symbol of human achievement. Some think that it may also have included the signs of the Zodiac and the beginnings of astrology.
Whether it is building towers and tall buildings or sports achievements, man continues to break the records of predecessors, and thus the saying, “records are made to be broken.” No matter what ones human accomplishments and “moment in the sun,” someone will come along one day and do even better. Even man’s biggest “successes” are fleeting. Our best efforts can bring only temporary honor, which will all too soon be eclipsed by the new and greater achievements of others. And all the trophies and certificates and ribbons and medals we collect along the way here will all be left behind one day and all the huge monuments built by mankind will one day topple as God destroys the earth with fire (II Pet. 3:10-13) to make the “new heavens and new earth” spoken of in Revelation 21:1.
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews presents a better way to achieve significance than through human monuments, or medals or records. He gives us a list of heroes in chapter 11, heroes of the faith who never lost sight of the fact that “These all died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…for they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:13,16). Those who invest their efforts in living to please God have a lasting city and an everlasting honor to look forward to, as did Abraham: “By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9,10).
Being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26,27), and as the crown of all His creation (Psa. 8), man has been able to accomplish some amazing things, but no matter how well we do, our “records” will inevitably be broken by someone. Someone will build a taller building; someone will achieve a higher score; someone will run a faster race. We may have a shelf full of trophies and a case full of medals and ribbons, but one day we will leave this earth and all that will be left behind for someone else to worry about. And, as Solomon said, “And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity” (Eccl. 2:19). As Dennis De Haan wrote in a Daily Bread devotional, “True greatness does not lie with those who strive for worldly fame; it lies instead with those who choose to serve in Jesus’ name.” That’s why Jesus challenged believers, saying: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..” (Mt. 6:19-21,33). The apostle Paul conveyed this same truth to the Corinthian believers, writing: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Cor. 4:16-18).