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Noble Six Hundred

My father and I shared the same love for literature and poetry, especially the classics. When I was in elementary school, I remember his insistence of my memorizing word for word Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade. To millions of people in the English-speaking world, it is by far and away Tennyson’s most familiar poem. Though at the time, as a nine-year-old boy, the only thing I was concerned with was its length. Fifty-five lines long to be exact. And while my classmates recited “roses are red, violets are blue,” after my rendering of all six stanzas, I received no standing ovation. What I did get was the proverbial “deer in the headlight look” from 15 of my peers. From my father, I received heaps of praise.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

What inspired Tennyson to write such a poetic masterpiece was the Battle of Balaclava that was fought on the 25th of October 1854 during the Crimean War. This particular contest became well known because of Florence Nightingale, who nursed wounded soldiers during this war. However, the specific events which ignited the conflict between Britain and France and the Ottoman Empire have long been forgotten in the collective memory. But what is vividly remembered is one tragic incident of the campaign: the headlong cavalry charge of the British Light Brigade into murderous Russian fire; an action immortalized by Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem.

Through a miscommunication of orders, the Light Brigade of approximately 600 horsemen began a headlong charge into a treeless valley. Unbeknownst to them, the valley was surrounded on three sides by some 20 battalions of Russian infantry and artillery. The result was disastrous. An estimated 278 of the Light Brigade were killed or wounded.

As tragic as this story may be, what I find interesting is the willingness of the 600 to follow their orders. No questions asked. No hesitancy at all. They simply followed.

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

The Charge of the Light Brigade is infamous as an act of bravery in the face all insurmountable odds. Loyal. Obedient. Virtuous. Even in the face of death.

Noble six hundred.

I’m reminded of a passage in Revelation 7 where John writes:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7.9-10

A great multitude, so great that no one can number them.

They come from every nation, peoples, and languages and they are standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Here is pictured a great multitude that is victorious. They cry out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” We see that the multitude recognizes that their victory is really God’s victory. Salvation belongs to our God and because of this truth they experienced salvation and deliverance. Even from death.

Earlier, while addressing the church at Smyrna, Jesus had this to say:

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Revelation 2.10

A quick glance may cause some to construe Jesus’ statement to the saints as this: remain faithful until death. But that is not at all how the text reads.

"Be faithful unto death."

The suffering that was to come was going to be severe. The tribulation would not only result in some being imprisoned, but also death for many. Perhaps that is why our Lord began His letter with the description of Himself as the one “who died and came back to life” (Revelation 2.8). They were to remain faithful, even to the point of death. It’s a powerful and profound declaration.

Do you have that same level of faith? Do I?

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

In Luke 9.23-25, Jesus makes an interesting statement to His disciples. Here He says,

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Denying oneself is a difficult endeavor for many. We want what we want. Self-preservation, sometimes at all cost, is the mantra of some. Denial of self is the opposite message of the world. But the cost of discipleship demands more from us. Discipleship is difficult and will at times involve suffering and sacrifice. Christ is calling on His disciples to serve even through suffering. If your definition of God’s mercy and divine power is that He will not let you suffer, then you do not know the God of the Bible. Following Jesus entails giving up all of ourselves for Him. We will respond to God’s will, not our own. It is the end of the independent life. It is a calling for a deep commitment to follow Him. This is a critical concept for the life of the Christian.

And the cross intensifies this imagery for us. For the first century Christian, crossbearing was not something to be taken lightly. To them the image was absolutely jarring and shocking. Carrying the cross was a one-way journey. Condemned criminals carried one bar of the cross to the place of their execution. The person carrying the cross would not come back down that path. They were going to their death.

Understand this: cross-bearing is a daily endeavor. It’s an everyday commitment. Jesus said you must lose your life now if you want to follow Him and have life in the age to come. What good are we doing if we gain everything this world has to offer and lose our eternal souls? (Matthew 16.26) What would have been the point? The Christ declared that He would suffer, be rejected, and be killed. Then Jesus said if you want to follow Him, you must walk down the same path.

Are you prepared to make that kind of commitment? Am I?

On October 25, 1854, a command was given to the 600 to charge into the valley of Death. And they followed their orders, knowing for many it would result in tragedy.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honor the charge they made!

Honor the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!

Looking back now some fifty years later, I am thankful for my father. And for him encouraging me at such a young age to tackle the daunting task of memorizing all six stanzas of Tennyson’s classic verse. Nobility. Loyalty. Virtue. Honor. Duty. Even in the face of death. Timeless lessons that our Lord teaches us even today.

And while I recognize that the book of Revelation is speaking to those early century Christians who were going to suffer persecution for the cause of Christ, I understand that there’s a message for us as well. Our charge and reward is no different than theirs. What a blessing to know what lies ahead for us if we will remain faithful and steadfast to the Lord!

We may die as we take up our cross daily and follow Him. But God will raise us from the dead if we remain faithful. For the faithful will be given the victorious crown of life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5.24

Noble six hundred.

A great multitude, so great that no one can number them.

I want to be counted among that multitude. Singing praises to the Lamb. For an eternity. Don’t you?