Now that we’ve planned the sermon on Hebrews 12:1-3, we can begin writing it.
1. Gather supportive material for each point or move of the outline.
I. Why run the race: Because you have the example of the OT believers.
Explanation: Who are the witnesses? They’re the list of people the writer has just mentioned in Hebrews 11. They include Abel, Enoch and Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab.
Explanation: Why are they called “witnesses”? Talk about witnesses as spectators versus witnesses who give testimony. Affirm that here the witnesses are testifying by their lives, telling us that we can run the race successfully.
Illustration from John Piper: Imagine the witnesses standing along the sidelines of the track, testifying and cheering us on. Today the cloud of witnesses is even larger–believers throughout church history. Give examples of people who lived by faith.
II. How to run the race:
A. Throw off every weight and sin.
Illustration: A runner in a snowmobile suit, with a fifty-pound pack on his back. Instead of running shoes, he’s got big, heavy motorcycle boots. He needs to throw off all excess weight. Likewise, we need to get rid of everything that is a hindrance in running the Christian race.
Examples: Things not sinful in themselves that may be hindrances in living the Christian life: an all-you-can-eat buffet, video games.
Illustration: Jerry Bridges cancelling a magazine subscription because the magazine was stimulating impure thoughts.
Explanation: throw off “the sin which so easily ensnares us.” The picture here is of a long, flowing garment that wraps itself around your legs. Sin is like that. It will trip you up. Throw off sinful habits, resentment, envy, anger.
Explanation: We need the Spirit’s help, but throwing off hindrances and sin is our responsibility.
B. Run with endurance.
Explanation: Endurance = perseverance.
Illustration: Describe the endurance needed for running a long-distance race.
Examples of why the Christian race may require endurance: you may be dealing with a serious illness or difficult relationship. You may be experiencing hostility or ridicule at work.
Illustration: A woman I knew who lived with severe respiratory problems, but endured in her faith.
C. Look to Jesus.
Explanation: Look to Jesus = look away to Jesus. Be like a runner who refuses to be distracted and focuses on the finish line.
1. Remember Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Explanation: the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Refer to Heb. 11:1.
Illustration: A pioneer blazing a trail. Jesus blazed the trail of faith. He also perfectly exemplified faith, far more so than any of the Old Testament witnesses.
2. Remember how Jesus expressed his faith: He endured the cross and is now exalted.
Explanation: What crucifixion involved; its shame. How did Jesus endure it? He looked to the joy before him, being seated at the Father’s right hand. We need to look to the joy before us. Illustration: a runner looking forward to Olympic gold.
3. The benefit: you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Explanation: Why the readers of this letter were tempted to grow weary and lose heart: persecution. Considering Jesus and looking to him will keep them from growing weary and losing heart, in spite of persecution. The same is true for us.
Examples of ways to consider Jesus and look to him: meditate on the accounts of Jesus’ passion in the Gospels.
2. Write the sermon introduction.
Paint a picture of a runner at the starting line, then running a race.
Explain that this is a vivid picture of the Christian life, often used in the New Testament. It shows us that the Christian life involves effort. You must follow a certain course and head toward a certain goal.
Ask: Have you ever been running a race and felt like giving up? That’s how the first readers of Hebrews felt about the race of the Christian life. It was too hard, too painful. They were starting to wonder if they should give up on Christianity.
Say: Maybe you’ve felt the same way. Examples of when living the Christian life is difficult and you feel like giving up. All of us probably struggle like this sometimes. We could use some encouragement in running the Christian race. [Here I am identifying the fallen condition focus that the text will address.]
The writer of Hebrews encourages us by answering two questions. The first is, why should you keep running the Christian race? Why not just drop out? Then the second question is, how should you run this race? Listen again to what this writer says.
3. Write the body of the sermon.
The body of the sermon can be written using the supportive materials above, or others that fit the circumstances in which your congregation members are living.
4. Write the sermon conclusion.
You may not be much of a physical runner. But if you’ve trusted in Jesus Christ to save you, you’ve been entered in a race. You’ve been called to live for Christ and pursue holiness. How are you doing? Are you making progress? Or are you growing weary and feeling like giving up?
If you’re not making much progress, maybe the problem is that you’re carrying an extra weight that’s hindering you. Or maybe you’ve got a sin in your life that feels good, but is constantly tripping you up. Throw off the extra weight! Throw off that sin, so that you can run!
Remember the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds you-the men and women of faith who’ve gone before. And look to Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” By faith he focused on the joy set before him and endured the cross, despising the shame. Look to him, and keep running. Run with endurance the race that is set before you.
If you do, someday you too will share the joy. You will receive a crown of glory as you stand before your Savior’s throne.