I live about forty-five minutes from Washington, D.C., so I usually end up taking the commuter train there once or twice a year for a sightseeing day trip. I always hit up the Smithsonian museums, and usually take the time to visit at least one monument. Washington, D.C. is full of monuments large and small, honoring the men and women who have built the country and exemplified its values. These are the hallowed spaces in American civic life. There is always a tingling of emotion entering the “temple” of the Lincoln Memorial, or gazing up at the towering obelisk of the Washington Monument, or standing in the dome of the Jefferson Memorial. These are the giants of American history, the great men in whose shadows we still stand today.
This got me thinking: I wonder what monuments will line the golden streets of New Jerusalem, the capital city of King Jesus’ reign. Revelation 21 and 22 describes the city that will descend out of heaven, ending the age of sin and death and remaking the entire world with resurrection power. When the kingdom of God once and for all subsumes the kingdoms of the world, and the saints come marching in and begin their everlasting reign alongside King Jesus, what will be celebrated in heaven’s capital city? What will the monuments of eternity honor?
I believe that Jesus hints at the answer in Mark 10. As Jesus and his disciples approach “Old Jerusalem,” a day before Palm Sunday’s triumphal entry, James and John ask to be installed as vice-regents alongside Jesus when his kingdom comes in glory (which they presumably think is going to happen later that week). Jesus acknowledges that such position of authority and honor exist (Mark 10:40), but then goes on to completely redefine the virtues that are exalted in his upside-down kingdom:
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45
“If you really want to be great,” Jesus told them, “then serve. Stoop to put yourself last. Become the slave of all. That is what is exalted in my kingdom.”
What if all the things we think qualify you for “monument status” in this world– like success, achievement, status– are completely different from what heaven evaluates? What if the streets of New Jerusalem are not lined with monuments to the well-known heroes of the faith– many of whom we rightly honor and admire– but instead to the obscure saints who most exemplified the kingdom’s values of meekness, servanthood, and humility?
What if it’s not the great men and women of church history who are honored with obelisks in heaven, but rather the church janitors and Sunday school teachers? What if the famous preachers and authors are nobodies, and the faithful country pastor who labored and loved a congregation of seventy-five people for fifty years is celebrated with annual fireworks? What if it’s not the generous donors who built buildings, but the kids who gave their allowance to missionaries on the field, whose names are etched in eternity? I imagine heaven full of edifices like Susie Mitchell Library, dedicated to the little girl whose $5 funded care for an orphan in Uganda; or the Jamal Smith Monument to the little boy who prayed for his classmates every night. I imagine parades along the golden streets celebrating Ellen Tickerson, the single mom who faithfully brought her kids to church and raised them to love Jesus. I think of saints like Jimmy Wong, whose infectious joy greeted visitors to my church for years before he succumbed to cancer, honored with a larger-than-life statue in the town square.
Of course, all of this is merely sanctified speculation, but I don’t think I’m that far off base. Jesus said that “the Father who sees in secret will reward” the unsung acts of devotion in this life, that eternity’s highest honor of “well done, good and faithful servant” is reserved for those who are faithful in small things, and that all of heaven erupts in celebration when one wayward sinner repents.
But why? Why does heaven prize the seemingly insignificant so highly? Why is humility the highest honor, and servanthood celebrated so extravagantly? Jesus tells us: “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all, for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Humility and servanthood are echoes of the excellence of heaven’s King, who stooped to take the form of a servant and became obedient to the point of death on a cross.
That’s why the center of heaven’s praise will always be “the Lamb who was slain.” He is the utmost example of humility, the supreme Servant, the Great One who embraced lowliness. And in this kingdom, the more you’re like him, the greater you are.
So aim low, church. That’s where the glory really is.