Veneration and Worship

Question
I know that we shouldn't venerate relics as Christians, but what if the entire cross of Jesus were discovered intact with the blood and sweat of Jesus on it? How should Christians view this? If they saw it in person, are they meant to venerate it? Are they meant to bow in front of it out of respect? Are they meant to kiss it? How should they view and handle it?
Answer
As you read this answer, please understand that it is not meant in any way to undervalue the cross of Christ, its reality, or purpose. However, as in all our answers, the whole counsel of God must be considered (cf. Acts 20:27).

A discovery like you are surmising in your question would be a wonderful historical discovery. But it would be exactly that — an important historical archeological find. But a Christian should not kiss, bow or pray to such things, or make pilgrimages to worship them. The early church would have had access to the very cross Christ died on as well as the tomb where his body was placed. However, there is no biblical record that they ever sought to preserve or venerate them.

Similarly, if ever found, we shouldn't make even the actual cross of Christ an idol. (1 John 5:21). God made this clear in Exodus 20:4-5:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.

This second commandment affords absolutely no doubt that we should disassociate ourselves from idols. Idols of any kind obscure the majestic and wondrous glory of the eternal God. Christ didn't die so we would simply make a pilgrimage to the mere wooden cross on which it happened. It's not about worshiping the literal blood and sweat of Jesus Christ. Rather, Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4) so that his people would be redeemed. It's about worshiping the true and living God who did this in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

Is the cross important? Absolutely. There would be no salvation without it! However, when Christian's speak of the cross of Christ, it should remind them of Christ's loving sacrifice – a foreordained real human sacrifice (cf. Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28). When we speak of Christ's blood, we are speaking about what Christ accomplished through his atoning death – the redemption of his people. And so, Christianity is about a person – the person of Jesus Christ. Thinking of the cross, or even seeing the actual cross that Christ died on should make one consider this person, this Christ. They should worship God. They should not venerate things.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).