Behind the Song “The Cross Is” by Mikel Del Rosario

By Mikel Del Rosario

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April 9, 2020

Why did you write the song?

As a doctoral student who’s also a musician, I need a creative outlet that gets my hands back on a guitar to create something.  When I get a chance to steal away from my studies, I still like to play guitar and work on music.

I attended a songwriter’s retreat in Dallas where I got a packet with a number of Scriptures, poems, ancient prayers, and other materials to look over. A piece called “The Prayer of St. Yared” caught my eye because of lines like “The cross is the holy rage against injustice” and “the cross is the cure to violence and vengeance.” I was struck by the seeming paradox. At the most basic level, Jesus’ crucifixion was both extremely unjust and violent. But seeing the cross as a synecdoche for the atonement and the inauguration of a new era was profound. Implicit in this is the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, which marked Peter’s speech in the first apologetic argument for Jesus’ Messiahship and Lordship. Most of the lyrics of “The Cross Is” come from the St. Yared piece. Later, I found out that he was a prominent Ethiopian church musician of the 6th century.

Why was this important for you to write about?

You see crosses everywhere. Churches, jewelry, clothing, etc… In some ways, the cross is so ubiquitous, so common place, that it’s lost its meaning for a lot of people. How something so repulsive to first century eyes and ears could be the solution to the human condition and the effects of sin in the 21st century is mind blowing but it’s true. It’s “healing for the broken, reconciliation, hope for new creation, the power of resurrection” and so much more. Part of the chorus mentions “reconciliation” and this is meant to convey not only a vertical reconciliation between God and people, but a horizontal reconciliation between human beings—The racial reconciliation conversation is a part of this and even though I’ve been doing intercultural ministry for decades, it’s gotten more on my radar since moving to Dallas. Racial discrimination is just one example of the injustice that God’s rages against. You see how God brings Jews and Gentiles together in Christ in Ephesians 2, for example, and you can see how the church is part of God’s plan to unify various groups under Christ.

Reflecting back on the lyric “in suffering, consolation,” I was probably thinking about when my dad died, and that’s why the idea stood out to me. But recently, I’ve craved comfort from the Lord in the midst of anxiety and the suffering we are enduring as a result of this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m drawn to the cross because it’s “a sign of hope” for all who are feeling hopeless.

The final line of the chorus “Lead us to the cross” is a prayer for God to help us understand the significance for cross event—Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension—and live them out.

Did you have any apologetics concepts in mind when writing the song?

There isn’t an obvert apologetics message in the song, but the influence is definitely there. It’s probably the most poetic song I’ve ever put together. Probably because I actually didn’t write most of the lyrics!

Most of the song is adapted from concepts and language in the St. Yared piece. But for the third verse, I wrote “symbol of the crucifixion” because, on one level, it’s the most obvious way to describe what the cross is. But from an apologetic standpoint, it’s also an argument for the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion—probably the most historically certain thing about Jesus. Gary Habermas includes this in his “minimal facts” approach to defending the resurrection. I love how N.T. Wright points out that the word for “cross” wasn’t something you would say in polite company in the first century. The imagery of torture and gore it brought up was just way too brutal. But it is a fact that the early Christians made the cross their symbol. Why? Because for them, it was a symbol of God’s love for them. Without a real Jesus, who was really crucified in 30 A.D., how can you explain something like that? To this I would add, without a real, historical resurrection, why would Christians want to remember Jesus’ humiliating death?

In the same verse, I wrote “shame before the exaltation” as a theological explanation of what couldn’t be seen at the foot of the cross. It was Friday, but nobody knew Sunday was coming. It’s a powerful contrast: Jesus is humiliated like a powerless victim on the cross but exalted to the right hand of the Power from which he dispenses the Holy Spirit after the ascension. This is what Peter’s speech in Acts 2 was getting at.

This is the very first Jewish apologetic for Jesus as Lord and Messiah.

What was metaphorically true about the idealized Davidic king from Psalm 110 became literally true when Jesus was vindicated through his resurrection and ascension: No human king ever actually ascended to heaven and sat at God’s right hand, but Jesus did. And unlike human Davidic kings, there is no need for a hereditary dynasty because Jesus will never die again. In a smaller way, we can cling to this as Christians because when we acknowledge Jesus before men, it doesn’t matter if they mock us. In the end, Jesus will acknowledge us before the angels of God.

Studying apologetics helps me deal with suffering because, even when I don’t feel God, I ask myself, “Did the universe stop needing a cause for its existence?” “Did the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection just disappear?” It’s comforting to have a faith that is rooted in reality because the hope of the Gospel is true no matter how I happen to feel or how badly I’m struggling today.

What did the recording process look like?

This a cool story. I recorded the vocals and my acoustic and electric guitars in Dallas. It was a very simple Blue Yeti mic into Garage Band for vocals and my EJ-160e John Lennon jumbo acoustic. The electric part was recorded direct using my 1992 Japanese Squire Silver Series Fender Strat through a small Yamaha THR5 bedroom amp in less than 10 minutes.

The original material that inspired me came from Ethiopia and the drums were recorded in South Africa! Next, I remembered that a fellow apologist, Tim Stratton, was a rocking bassist so I asked him to lay down the low end in Nebraska. I got one of my best friends, Kevin Strahm, who played guitar in the band we formed in high school, to play a rhythm acoustic part. I’m actually not sure where he recorded this because he was probably on location shooting a movie. He does sound for movies. And it was all mixed by my friend Stephen Ballast in Tennessee. He’s another one of my best friends who mixed our high school band and helped us record. I’ve known Stephen and Kevin since the 5th and 6th grade!

The Cross Is 

(click here to listen)

Written by Mikel Del Rosario (inspired by the Prayer for St. Yared)

Lyrics:

Holy rage against injustice

That’s what the cross

What the cross is

The cure to violence and vengeance

That’s what the cross

What the cross is

What the cross is

Solace for the ones in mourning

That’s what the cross

What the cross is

A sign of hope for all the hopeless

That’s what the cross

What the cross is

What the cross is

There’s healing for the broken

Reconciliation

Hope for new creation

The power of resurrection

In suffering consolation

Lead us to the cross

Symbol of the crucifixion

That’s what the cross

What the cross is

Shame before the exaltation

That’s what the cross

What the cross is

What the cross is

There’s healing for the broken

Reconciliation

Hope for new creation

The power of resurrection

In suffering consolation

Lead us to the cross


Credits:

Lead Vocals – Mikel Del Rosario

Background Vocals – Audrey Flood

Acoustic and Electric Guitars – Mikel Del Rosario

Acoustic Rhythm Guitar  – Kevin Strahm

Bass Guitar- Tim Stratton

Drums – Glenn Welman

Sound Engineer – Stephen Ballast

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About the Author

By Mikel Del Rosario

Mikel Del Rosario helps Christians explain their faith with courage and compassion. He is a doctoral student in the New Testament department at Dallas Theological Seminary. Mikel teaches Christian Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. He is the author of the Accessible Apologetics curriculum and has published over 20 journal articles on apologetics and cultural engagement with his mentor, Dr. Darrell Bock in Bibliotheca Sacra. Mikel holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics with highest honors from Biola University and a Master of Theology (Th.M) from Dallas Theological Seminary where he serves as Cultural Engagement Manager at the Hendricks Center and a host of the Table Podcast. Visit his Web site at ApologeticsGuy.com.