Mark Batterson. The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014. 288 pp. $22.99.
Mark Batterson’s latest release is The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible. His other books include In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and The Circle Maker.
In Grave Robber, he explores the seven “signs” (i.e., miracles) that Jesus performs in the Gospel of John (the seventh sign is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, hence the title). In the process of exploring these signs, Batterson engages many of the other miracles recorded in the Bible, as well as sharing stories of miracles from our own day.
There are many things to appreciate about the book. For example, the way Batterson packed the book with illustrative anecdotes, both from popular history (e.g. baseball, war, politics, music and the arts, science, etc.) and from what I’ll call, “life in the local church” (i.e. personal testimonies of hardship and miracles from Batterson, his church, and many other people he knows or knows of).
I also appreciated the clever phrasing throughout the book (a favorite: “the water blushed” referring to the first sign). And I appreciated the strong admonitions Batterson included in Chapter 15 towards generosity, which he grounded in the generosity of our God.
As for improvements, I’ll offer a few. First, some have pointed out that there are not seven signs in John, but eight, with the resurrection of Jesus being the final one (not the large catch of fish, 163). Batterson could have made the final chapter on this eighth sign (the resurrection of Jesus), but that might be too much to ask. I’m not sure I should be telling another author how to finish their book. However, a passing reference to it would have been fitting.
Second, often Batterson’s exegesis is careful and leads to fruitful observations (e.g. the disciples had rowed to the middle of the lake, 187; the text does say that Lazarus had his grave clothes on which, indeed, must have been a sight when he came out of the tomb, 237). However, a few times Batterson drifts toward cliché. For example, he repeats this phrase several times: “God won’t answer 100% of the prayers you don’t make.” That sounds like the Wayne Gretzky quote about missing 100% of the shots you don’t take. Related to this, at times the exegesis should be more careful. For example, when speaking of the two-stage healing in Mark 8 of the blind man, he writes:
Remember the story of Jesus healing the blind man with mud? It’s one of the most encouraging miracles in the Gospels because it took two attempts. Even Jesus had to pray more than once! (94, emphasis added)
Jesus “had to pray more than once”? Okay, Mark, can we word this a little more carefully? I hope it is only a poor attempt at humor. If this were true—that Jesus’ prayers were not 100% efficacious—it would not be encouraging at all.
Aside from these critiques, The Grave Robber is an encouraging book for believers—Jesus stole Lazarus’ body from the grave, and one day, he will steal ours too (John 5:28-29; 11:25-26).
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Three Favorite Quotes
“The focal point of the fourth miracle is Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Of course, whoever dubbed it the feeding of the five thousand shortchanged Jesus. There were five thousand men. So the total head count was probably closer to twenty thousand men, women, and children. Jesus didn’t pull a rabbit out of a hat. He pulls out twenty thousand fish.” (Batterson, Grave Robber, 136, emphasis original)
“A member of our prayer team recently told me that we had thirty documented healings at National Community Church year-to-date. I was absolutely ignorant of that fact. And ignorance is like a lack of oxygen—it asphyxiates faith. That’s why we need to share testimonies! Hearing a testimony is the way I borrow faith from others. Sharing my testimony is the way I loan my faith to others. If we aren’t sharing testimonies, we’re cutting off circulation to the body of Christ.” (Batterson, Grave Robber, 150, emphasis original)
“Trust me when I say that God cannot and will not be bribed or blackmailed. You cannot play Him like a slot machine. If you give simply because you want to get something in return, you forfeit your down payment. You can’t play the game that way. We invest in the kingdom of God because it’s the right thing to do and it nets the best return on investment. Nothing beats compound interest for eternity! But if you give for the wrong reasons, you’re disqualified.” (Batterson, Grave Robber, 158-9)