Having fully worked through the plot points, it is necessary next to consider the details. The biblical narratives are extremely spare. Consider for example, Acts 4:7a, “And when they had set them in their midst”. The scene is told with exceeding brevity. Peter and John had been “put in custody” the night before.
Someone gave an order to fetch the men from some sort of jail. There were some number of guards who came to Peter and John, released them from their custody and transported them to some other room where there were some number of men.
How gave the order? How was it conveyed? What did the room look like where Peter and John were imprisoned? Was it cold or hot? Were then in chains, behind bars? How many steps was it from the prison to the room for meeting? What did the room look like? How many men were in the room?
What did it feel like when Peter and John stood in the middle of the room? There may have been a change in Peter, because the text says, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8).
When preaching or teaching, it is essential to unpack, or fill in the details. One primary purpose of narratives is not merely convey some proposition, but to convey understanding in a manner which is affecting. We watch movies and read stories because of how the story makes us feel (and think).
Take the hearers into the prison room; listen for the turn of the lock. Speak with the guard. Walk along the hallways into the room before the leaders of your people. This will require some research. Fortunately, there many good resources for biblical events. You do not need to use slides during your sermon, but you can describe the scene.
This is where reading will help. The way to learn to use words is to read masters using words. Here is the first paragraph of A Farewell to Arms:
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.
He makes you look at the scene. Learn to write and speak in such a way that you help others look at the scene. If you are a preacher, learning to use words well is your job. Yo have no excuse for not working to learn this skill. By the way, if you preach in such a way as to make a scene like Peter and John before the rulers boring you are not conveying truth — you are actually distorting the “meaning” of the text.
Now in doing this, be careful not to make up details. Consider this detail from a medieval Bible showing David slaying Goliath:
Without question, no one was dressed like that in the original event. But, when we do not have the details, it is easy for us to fill a picture which fits our expectations. Caution is necessary here.
However, we can use analogies to circumstances we and the hearers do know. For instance, none of know what it would be like to be brought before the rulers, elders and scribes and High Priest. But what if the FBI had gathered you and then dropped you before a meeting of the President and the Director of the CIA?
In order for the hearer to understand this story, the hearer/reader must experience a palpable fear. Peter’s courage makes no sense without Peter’s history of fear and without the real danger faced by Peter and John. Remember, these same men had just sent Jesus off to be murdered! If they could dispose of Jesus, what will they do to Peter and John?