When the church began to be persecuted (Ac 7:54ff), Acts begins to focus on the Gospel going out to the Gentiles. Quite a peculiar thing, yes?
The Lukan account swivels toward this theme. After persecution broke out (8:1-3), the Spirit moved among the “half-breeds” of Samaria (8:4-24) and the Ethiopian eunuch was saved (8:25-40). Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was converted (9:1-31) and the accounts of Peter’s ministry thereafter pertain to the Spirit’s effectual work beginning among the Gentiles (10:1-11:18). The rest is relatively straight-forward.
So when the church began to suffer, the Gospel was prepped for even greater, glorious works. The stoning of Stephen served as a sign that the age was ripening to fulfill Genesis 12:3, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Why did God use suffering as a platform upon which the nations would be made glad (Ps 67:4)? I suppose for the same reason He leaves Christians on earth after conversion. Why not take us home today?
What a peculiar thing for God to do.
Tolkien loved “eucatastrophe” – a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story (shout-out Google). To be eucatastrophic, the resolution is perhaps unforeseen and inexplicable. For example, “Why do the eagles arrive in the knick-of-time, and only then?” (Example A, Example B, Example C) For some, imagining an army of eagles on standby in Middle Earth ruins the tension at Mount Doom. For myself, anything less would make the tale lackluster – even unrealistic.
Because God loves eucatastrophe. Scripture is fraught with stories about God leading His people over cliffs, only to reach down in the knick-of-time and snatch them up.
Abraham prepared Isaac as a sacrifice and only when the knife was raised did God intervene (Gen 22:10-11). Peter was captured for execution and only “on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward” did God intervene (Ac 12:6ff). God led Israel to the Red Sea. He led them right up to the cold waters with chariots rattling behind. He took them over the cliff without a memo, and only then did the waters part (Ex 14).
The pivoting themes of Acts continue this trend. God led the church over a cliff: hunted and hated, they were scattered across the Eastern Mediterranean. But in the catastrophe, God demonstrated the richness of His sovereign grace. The man who led the charge against Christ became His greatest witness abroad. That arrowhead poking Christendom, God fastened to the Gospel shaft and shot across the Roman empire.
Acts presents us with a glorious eucatastrophe: unprecedented suffering begetting unprecedented joy for all the nations. What a peculiar thing for God to do.