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Nothing Beside Remains

With a degree in English, I've read a lot of poems. My favorite, though, is Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias."

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

I love this so much, a dear seminary friend had it painted for me, and that painting has hung above my dining room table ever since. There are many reasons I'm drawn to the poem, but the reason it remains publicly displayed in my home is simple: it's a reminder nothing on earth exists indefinitely.

For Ozymandias himself (Ozymandias being the Greek name of Rameses II, the pharaoh during the biblical exodus), that means his empire fell, his monuments crumbled, and he himself died. No matter how he conceived of himself, no matter his pride or earthly power, it all came to an end. And it will for us, too. Hundreds or thousands of years from now, if Jesus doesn't come back first, everything we did will be gone aside from maybe a gravestone and our name -- "nothing beside remains."

That may not be a pleasant thought, but think of it as a call to action. It should keep us humble. It should keep us dependent on God, for only His work is eternal. It should make us focus on eternity itself, the things that will endure forever. That should get us excited about evangelism, give us a sense of urgency as we share the gospel. All will face eternity, and what we do now, whether we accept Christ or not in this life, decides our eternal fate. We won't live forever, and we can't take anything with us when we go. No one can.

When all is said and done, we will stand before the true King of Kings. On that day, will you find rest -- or despair?

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