Having studied the content and context of Hebrews 12:1-3 and consulted commentaries, we are now ready to plan a sermon that explains and applies this text.
1. Write out the main thought of the text.
I believe the writer is calling his readers to run the race of the Christian life. As he does so, he explains why and how they should run.
So I would say the main thought of Hebrews 12:1-3 is: Because Christians are surrounded by many witnesses of faith, they should run the race of the Christian life with endurance, ridding themselves of sin and all that hinders them, and looking to Jesus as the great example of faith, so that they will not lose heart.
2. Write out the purpose of the text.
What is the purpose of Hebrews 12:1-3? The writer is calling his readers to continue moving forward in the Christian life, looking to Jesus’ example, and not to become discouraged and abandon their faith.
3. Review legitimate ways to preach Christ from the text.
Christ is central to this text, and there will be no difficulty preaching Christ.
4. Decide how you will apply the text to your audience.
What do we share in common with those to whom (or about whom) the text was written?
Because of the difficulties of being a Christian (opposition, ridicule, rejection, loss of status), we too can become discouraged and tempted to abandon the Christian faith.
How should we respond to the truths in the text?
We need to realize that living the Christian life can be challenging and difficult, like running a race. We need to think of believers in the Old Testament and of Jesus himself as examples of faith that we can follow. We need to focus especially on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
What does God now require of us?
God wants us to persevere and endure in living the Christian life, throwing aside any activity or sin that might hinder us. He wants us to focus on Jesus as a great example of faith, so that we won’t get discouraged and lose heart.
Where does he require it of us?
When facing ridicule or when tempted to cut corners or take the easy way out, we must resist and stay on the paths of righteousness. Maybe we need to stand up to our boss, when he asks us to lie or to carry out a policy that would be unethical or illegal.
Why does he require it?
God wants us to run with endurance because of the Old Testament witnesses of faith, and especially because of the example of Jesus.
How can we do what he requires?
How can we run with endurance? As we read Scripture, we can reflect on the lives of the Old Testament witnesses of faith.
We can consider Jesus and look to Jesus by meditating on the Gospels and considering that Jesus had to exercise faith as he followed the difficult path marked out for him by his heavenly Father. We can recall that he has now entered into joy at the Father’s right hand.
How can we lay aside every weight? Maybe we need to limit or cut out activities or hobbies (certain TV programs or video games?) that are drawing us away from Christ.
4. Write out the main thought and purpose of the sermon.
The main thought and purpose of the sermon can be almost the same as that of the text.
The main thought of this sermon on Hebrews 12:1-3: Because we Christians are surrounded by many witnesses of faith, we must run the race of the Christian life with endurance, ridding ourselves of sin and all that hinders us, and looking to Jesus as the great example of faith, so that we will not lose heart.
The purpose of this sermon on Hebrews 12:1-3: To encourage the congregation to continue moving forward in the Christian life, looking to Jesus’ example, and not to become discouraged and abandon their faith.
5. Develop a coherent sermon outline.
David Allen Black, in his book, Learn to Read New Testament Greek, uses Hebrews 12:1-2 to demonstrate how analyzing the syntactical structure of a passage can lead to the development of a sermon outline. He writes:
“Notice that the first line of the analysis alone contains an independent finite verb (τρέχωμεν, ‘let us run’). This clause expresses the author’s main point: running the race with endurance. Now observe how this clause is modified by three participial clauses that qualify ‘the race’: (a) those who have already completed the race are a great encouragement to us; (b) we cannot, however, hope to attain the goal without an abhorrence of personal sin; and (c) in view of our own weaknesses, we must look to Jesus, ‘the author and perfecter of faith.’ The remaining items in the paragraph are a striking description of Jesus, showing how the theme of ‘running the race’ climaxes in ‘Jesus and who he is.’ By reducing these elements to an outline, we can move directly from theory to practice:
Text: Hebrews 12:1–2
Title: Run to Win!
Theme: The Christian is called upon to follow the example of Jesus into a life of submission and obedience (“let us run with endurance.…”)
I. Our Encouragement (“having so great a cloud of witnesses”)
II. Our Entanglements (“laying aside every encumbrance …”)
III. Our Example (“fixing our eyes on Jesus…”)
Black’s sermon outline is certainly one that could be used. I prefer the following outline, because even though it is more complex, it enables the preacher to spend more time developing the “how” of running the Christian race, especially the key element of looking to Jesus.
I. Why run the race: Because you have the example of the OT believers.
II. How to run the race:
A. Throw off every weight and sin.
B. Run with endurance.
C. Look to Jesus.
1. Remember he is the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
2. Remember how he expressed his faith: he endured the cross and is now exalted.
3. The benefit: you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Black, David Alan. Learn to Read New Testament Greek. Third Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009. 206–207. ↑