The Grave Robber: How Jesus can make your Impossible Possible by Mark Batterson

Book Summary

Mark builds this book around the seven miracles recorded in the Gospel of John.

Part 1 Don’t Miss the Miracle

Chapter 1 The Day the Water Blushed

Miracle at Cana

The book begins by taking a close look at the wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Mark starts the book with some basics:

Sometimes God shows up. Sometimes God shows off

Don’t seek miracles. Follow Jesus

The prerequisite for a miracle is a problem, and the bigger the problem, the greater the potential miracle.

Chapter 2 Miraculous

Mark gives this example of how we miss the miraculous and the amazing:

On a January morning in 2007, a world-class violinist played six of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most stirring concertos for the solo violin on a three-hundred-year-old Stradivarius worth $3.5 million. Two nights before, Joshua Bell had performed a sold-out concert here patrons gladly paid $200 for nose bleed seats, but this time the performance was free.

Bell ditched his tux with coat tails, donned a Washington Nationals baseball cap, and played incognito outside the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. Street musicians are not a uncommon sight or sound for Washingtonians. In fact, my son Parker has played his guitar outside Metro stations a time or two, trying to make a little extra spending cash. Amazingly, his tip jar fared about as well as that of virtuoso Joshua Bell.

The experiment was originally conceived by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten and filmed by hidden camera. Of the 1,097 people who passed by, only seven stopped to listen. The forty five-minute performance ended without applause or acknowledgment. Joshua Bell netted $32.17 in tips, which included a $20 spot from the one person who recognized the Grammy Award-winning musician.

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the greatest musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, on one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many similarly sublime moments do we miss out on during a normal day?

Remember the old adage? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s true of everything, isn’t it? But it’s especially true of miracles. Miracles are happening all around us all the time, but you won’t see them if you don’t know how to look for them.

Mark gives another example of how we miss the obvious:

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons conducted an experiment at Harvard University more than a decade ago that became infamous in psychology circles. Their book The Invisible Gorilla popularized it. And you may be one of the millions of viewers who made their Selective Attention Test one of YouTubes’s most-watched videos. [See also the web site devoted to this phenomenon]

The two researchers filmed students passing basketballs while moving in a circular fashion. In the middle of the short film, a woman dressed in a gorilla suit walks into the frame, beats her chest, and walks out of the frame. The sequence takes nine seconds in the minute-long video. Viewers are given specific instructions.: “Count the number of passes by players wearing white shirts.” Of course, the researchers were not interested in their pass-counting ability They wanted to see if the viewers would notice something they weren’t looking for, something as obvious as a gorilla. Amazingly, half of the test group did not.

How is this possible?

How do you miss the gorilla in the room?

Another way we miss miracles according to Mark is that they are too common or monotonous.

Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth-century Scottish essayist, likened it to a man living his entire life in a cave and then stepping outside to witness the sunrise for the very first time. Carlyle hypothesized that the caveman would watch with rapt astonishment the sight we daily witness with indifference. In the words of G. K. Chesterton:
Grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. Is it possible God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon? The repetition in nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

He goes on to tell us:

God has wired us in such a way that we’re hypersensitive to new stimuli, but over time the cataracts of the customary cloud our vision. We lose our awareness of the miraculous, and with it, the awe of God.

Then he gives us some everyday miracles:

    • The earth is spinning on its axis at over 1,000 mph
    • We are hurtling around the sun at 67,108 mph
    • Our galaxy is spinning and we are moving 483,000 mph through space as part of the Milky Way
    • Our brain is performing 10 quadrillion calculations per second using 10 watts of power.

Chapter 3 The Lost Miracles

Mark claims that there are two things that trip us up and keep us from stepping into the miraculous:

    1. Subliminal Skepticism – miracles are violations of natural laws and our brains instinctively object to any such violation. Our “natural tendency is to explain away what we cannot explain.” He agrees that we need to be able to discern the false claims of the miraculous but “there is a fine line between discernment and skepticism. Discernment is filtering what is false from what is true with the help of Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Skepticism is a predisposition towards disbelief that is prejudiced by past experience.
    2. Dormant Disappointment – You have prayed for a miracle and it didn’t happen. And it was deeply disappointing.

To illustrate Dormant Disappointment, Mark cites an experiment run by a Swiss Psychologist in 1911. He was working with a man who had no short term memory. Every time they met, they would shake hands. The patient never remembered the doctor. One time the doctor put a pin in his hand and pricked the patient when he shook hands. From then on, the patient, though he never remembers shaking hands with the doctor, would never shake hands. Mark goes on and says:

When we experience a disappointment of the faith variety, many of us stop reaching our hand toward God.

Mark challenges us to believe – really believe that Jesus meant it when he said in John 14:12:

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Part 2 The First Sign

Chapter 4 The Wine Maker

Mark loves the fact that John chose to highlight this miracle first. Not something big and showy. But helping a young couple to save face.

God is great not just because nothing is too big. God is great because nothing is too small.

Mark encourages us to listen to the still small voice in order to be part of more miracles than we are currently experiencing. Are we willing to risk it?

Chapter 5 Six Stone Jars

The first miracle isn’t turning the water into wine. It’s water itself.

Mark tells the story of a man who designed a pump for the third world (called Access 1.2) that could be built for $17.84. He built it from a 500 year old drawing of Leonardo Da Vinci. Mark concludes:

You are only one God idea away from changing history.

To illustrate how vastly we underestimate what God can do with one person, he describes a time when a LEGO designer gave a group 6 LEGO blocks and asked them to guess how many different combinations could be created with those 6 blocks. Most guessed 1000’s. But the real answer is 915,103,765. He says:

We grossly underestimate the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.

Chapter 6 One Nudge

Based on the premise

Sometimes it’s harder to believe God for a miracle for ourselves than it is to believe God for a miracle for others.

Mark claims that we all need a nudge. He believes that Jesus’ mother, nudged Him at the wedding in Cana to perform His first miracle. “And most miracles need a nudge.” “Nearly every miracle recorded in Scripture has a supporting cast.”

Chapter 7 Supernatural Synchronicity

Jesus heals someone at a distance

Mark now looks at the second miracle – the healing at a distance of the ruler of the synagogue. In this chapter, Mark addresses coincidences. Are they accidents or divine appointments? Coincidence or providence? He calls these times in our life: supernatural synchronicity.

I have some problems with: “Wherever you go. God is sending you.” And “Wherever you are. God has put you there.” I am not sure God would say that to Adam as he was hiding from Him; or Elijah when we ran from Ahab; or Jonah as he sat in the belly of a whale.

I do believe in his main point:

If you live a Spirit-led life … , [supernatural synchronicity] will become a subplot in your life. You cannot set up supernatural synchronicities. That is God’s job. But it is your job to see them and seize them.

In the midst of these synchronicities, he develops another subplot: Don’t be afraid of addressing the powerful. “If you speak to the king of the universe in the morning, it’s no problem speaking to a US Senator in the afternoon.”

Chapter 8 God Speed

Addressing the fact that Jesus healed at a distance, Mark discusses quantum entanglement even though he doesn’t call it that. He concludes that time is a two way street for the Almighty. “There is no past, present, or future.” “There is no here or there.” Unfortunately, I am not sure quantum entanglement teaches that nor does the healing of the official’s son.

Chapter 9 The Seventh Hour

Mark’s lesson in this chapter is that if you want to experience a miracle, sometimes you have to go out of your way. He tells the story of a man who felt that children were being exposed to pornography because of its placement on cable TV. He worked tirelessly to get an amendment passed to force pornography to be scrambled and moved away from children’s shows.

From this he develops the need to persevere in prayer. I love the question he asks at the end of the chapter: Do you think David ever went back to where he killed Goliath or Moses to where he saw the burning bush or Peter to where he walked on water?

When you lose your way or lose your faith, you need to go back to the burning bushes in your life.

Part 3 The Second Sign

Chapter 10 Very Superstitious

This chapter begins to look at the third miracle – when Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethsaida. He begins with the story of George Danzig. He showed up late to a statistics class and mistook the professor’s problems on the board as his

The Pool of Bethsaida

homework assignment. Instead, they were two problems that no one had ever solved. Quoting Danzig, “If someone had told me they were two famous unsolved problems, I probably wouldn’t have even tried to solve them.”

One of the secrets to experiencing the miraculous according to Mark is to not be daunted by the impossible.

He tells an amazing story of a boy named Ethan who was miraculously healed. He tells us that healing is the exception not the rule. But he tells us many approach prayer like a baseball player who refuses to go to the plate because he gets a hit so seldom. Mark loves Ty Cobb’s attitude. Cobb hit .367 lifetime. When he was over 70, he was asked what he would hit if he played today in the major leagues. “About .310 maybe .315.” When asked if the reason was because of the travel, the night games or the pitching – he said: “No, … because I’m 72 years old.”

Chapter 11 Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Mark provides a working definition of want:

The sanctified desire and matching discipline to do what needs to be done, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes.

I like that!

No matter what goal you are trying to achieve or problem you are trying to solve, you have to want it more than the pain that will be inflicted upon you in the process of trying to attain it.

This leads us to the third miracle in John and the question Jesus asks:

Do you want to be well?

I love what Mark says about spiritual disciplines.

Routine is one key to spiritual growth. … But when routine becomes routine, you have to change the routine.

He mentions that the Scripture often has nameless people named after their condition. In this miracle, the man is called “the invalid.” But Mark warns us:

Don’t let what’s wrong with you, define you.

Mark recites the great story about Gaylord Perry, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Giants. Perry said in 1963 that “They’ll put a man on the moon before I hit a home run.” On July 20th, 1969, just hours after Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon, Perry hit he is first and only home run.  Mark goes on to say that “negative prophecies are validated by fear. Positive prophecies are validated by faith.”

Chapter 12 The Rule Breaker

If you want to repeat history, do it the way it’s always been done. If you want to change history, do it the way it has never been done before.

Mark claims that sometimes, to see a miracle, you have to break the rules. He also claims that we need to quit making assumptions. I would agree with that. Mostly your own man-made rules against one thing or another.  And our assumptions so often constrain us. He also claims that

Most of our problems are perceptual. The solution isn’t doing something different. It’s thinking about the problem differently. As Albert Einstein is said to have observed: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were on when we created them.”

Another factor that restricts our ability to experience the miraculous is we’re too quick to explain the inexplicable. To know God and His ways is entering a cloud of unknowing.  The more you know about God, the less you know.

Half of faith is learning what we don’t know. The other half is unlearning what we do know.

I like Mark’s summary of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (which deals with quantum mechanics):

God is predictably unpredictable.

Part 4 The Fourth Sign

Chapter 13 The Two Fish


Feeding of the Five Thousand

Mark explores the story of the feeding of the five thousand in this chapter. He explores the counter-factual idea – what if the boy wouldn’t have shared his loaves and two fish?

If this boy didn’t share his five loaves and two fish, I don’t believe this miracle of multiplication would have gone down. … generally speaking, God doesn’t do the supernatural if we don’t pull our weight by doing the natural.

Mark then extrapolates to one of his principles:

If you put what you have in your hands into God’s hands, He can make a lot out of a little.

Next Mark looks at Andrew’s reaction to the little boy’s offer. He could see it didn’t add up to enough. But to Mark:

In my experience, the will of God rarely adds up. By definition, a God ordained dream will always be beyond your resources and beyond your ability.

Chapter 14 Lord Algebra

Here Mark discusses Jesus’ math skills. The disciples failed the first math test:

So Jesus graciously gives them a make up test. He doesn’t just teach them a new equation: 5 + 2 + X = 5,000 R12. Lord Algebra gives them an object lesson. If the first miracle reveals that nothing is too small for God. The fourth miracle counterbalances it: nothing is too big for God. And Jesus is the X factor.

Chapter 15 Count the Fish

Mark highlights the fact that as the young man gave of what he had, God gave back more – 12 baskets more. Then he teaches us this principle:

God cannot give back what you don’t give away.

Part 5 The Fifth Sign

Chapter 16 The Water Walker

This chapter deals with the fifth miracle – Jesus walking on the water. He

Jesus Walks on Water

wonders why the disciples thought the image on the water was a ghost and not Jesus.

The reason many of us miss the miracles that are all around us all the time is because we don’t have a prior memory to associate with them. That’s precisely why the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost. They had no cognitive category for someone walking on water.

Mark then goes on to explain that we limit God because we don’t know enough about what he can do: He brings this out in the natural world:

In his book Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot, Richard Restak shares a profound truism: learn more, see more. He notes, “The richer my knowledge of flora and fauna of the woods, the more I’ll be able to see. Our perceptions take on richness and depth as a result of all the things that we learn. What the eye sees is determined by what the brain has learned.”

But it isn’t just learning more knowledge:

The net result of seeking God is not just knowledge. It’s mystery. And anything less than mystery is idolatry.

Chapter 17 Dare the Devil

Mark opens this chapter talking about the tight-rope walkers – the Wallenda family. He tells the story of Nik, the great-grandson of Karl Wallenda who died at age 73 crossing between two high rises. Mark actually saw Nik walk across the Grand Canyon in 2013 without a safety net. He makes this observation:

It was Nik’s grandfather who impressed upon him at an early age that safety nets give a false sense of security. Therein lies one of the secrets to experiencing the miraculous: if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.

He then challenges us:

Many of us fail to achieve our dreams or experience the miraculous because we’re more focused on not falling than on taking the first step. Instead of going for broke, we keep filling our piggy bank or building our résumé. But there comes a moment when you need to quit preparing for the life you want to live and start living it.

Looking to the title of this chapter, Mark tells us:

The word daredevil can have negative connotations, but let me try to redeem it by redefining it. It’s more than the frivolous risking of life and limb or recklessness for no good reason. Etymologically, it means to dare the devil. And as such, it should be a defining characteristic of anyone who follows the One who went forty rounds with the devil in the desert. Fearlessness is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated dimensions of His kaleidoscopic personality. Jesus is the definition of daredevil.

Mark then hits head on the issue of fear:

While there are several thousand classified fears and phobias, we are born with only two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Every other fear is learned, which means that every other fear can be unlearned. But the key to unlearning is a revelation of God’s love. That’s how your fears fade away—the fear of failure, the fear of people’s opinions, the fear of the future. If you keep growing in God’s love, all that will be left is the fear of God.

Chapter 18  Cut the Cable

Otis Elevator Test Tower in Bristol CT

Mark starts this chapter with the story of Otis Elevator’s beginning. The story goes that the Elisha Otis could not sell his design until he concocted a scheme that he demonstrated at the Crystal Palace Exhibition (for all of you PBS “Victoria” fans).  Basically he cut the cable that was used to move the elevator up and down the shaft and demonstrated that his braking system would work. It did work and the rest is history. We see the Otis Elevator testing shafts every time our family goes to the Lake Compounce Amusement Park.  Mark uses this story as a example of the risk taking kind of faith that God honors:

faith is climbing out on a limb, cutting it off, and watching the tree fall.

Of course the 5th miracle that Mark is covering is Peter’s faith that got out of the boat to walk on the water to meet Jesus.

He also points out in that story that the disciples, though they were able body fishermen, were battling fatigue as Jesus approached. Mark encourages us with these words:

Listen, if you’re fighting cancer or fighting for your marriage, there are days when you feel beaten by waves of discouragement. Or maybe you’re drowning in a sea of debt. I know it’s a sinking feeling, but you cannot have a comeback without a setback. … Everyone wants a miracle, but no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one! We want smooth sailing, but that’s sailing away from the miraculous. The prerequisite is often a perfect storm. And it’s that moment when you feel helpless and hopeless when God’s omnipotence overwhelms your impotence like a fifty-foot tsunami.

Mark calls us to be like Peter – a water walker:

Water walkers would rather make mistakes than miss opportunities. They’d rather sink than sit.

He closes this chapter with this warning:

But let me give you one rule of thumb. If you’re going to get out of a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night, you better make sure Jesus said, “Come.” Of course, if Jesus says, “Come,” you better not stay in the boat. Is it easy to discern the difference? No. But I’d rather stub my toe than sit on my backside. After all, you can’t be the hands and feet of Jesus as long as you’re sitting on your butt.

Part 6 The Sixth Sign 

The section deals with the opening of the eyes of the man born blind.

Chapter 19  Never Say Never

The title of this chapter is taken from John 9:32 – “No one has ever opened

Blind Man washes in the pool of Siloam

the eyes of a man born blind.”

Mark has several inspiring stories dealing with eye-sight and specifically color blindness. He encourages us to see the miraculous in nature – especially in seeing.

While Scripture belongs in a category by itself as special revelation, God has revealed different facets of who He is through nature. And if you turn a blind eye to natural revelation, special revelation isn’t as special. Albert Einstein said it best: “Science without religion is lame, and conversely, religion without science is blind.”

Encouraging us not to give up and to step out like the blind man did in the story, Mark tells us that “When Jesus gets involved, never say never.”

Chapter 20 The Miracle League

In this chapter Mark deals with some difficult stories where miracles did not happen or at least not the way we had hoped.

Here’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way: you can’t claim half a promise. We love asking God to open doors, a la Revelation 3:8–9. But it’s disingenuous asking God to open a door if you aren’t willing to let Him close a door. Those closed doors would prove to be trapdoors if we walked through them—they would take us places we don’t want to go.

He quotes from the great Hall of Faith chapter in the book of Hebrews (Chapter 11).  When the great stories of success and miracles are highlighted we wish the chapter ended there.

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them.

And then Mark asks:

Were only half of them in the will of God? The ones who conquered kingdoms or shut the mouths of lions? Or were all of them in the will of God—including the ones who were sawed in two? The will of God isn’t safe. In fact, it might even get you killed. But if God gets the glory, then the goal is accomplished. And the eternal reward we receive will be well worth any sacrifices we make.

Asking questions from stories in this chapter, Mark asks:

Why do children fall out of windows?

Why do kids die in dune buggy accidents?

Why are babies born blind?

Those are unanswerable questions. Those are questions we take to the grave with us. But you can’t let the questions you cannot answer keep you from trusting what you know to be true.

Chapter 21 Spit on It

Mark starts the chapter by quoting the old proverb:

“Those who hear not the music, think the dancer mad.”

We miss so much beauty around us. For a number of reasons. Talking about the sixth miracle:

The irony of the sixth miracle is that the man born blind ends up with sight and the seeing Pharisees end up legally blind. Faith isn’t just a way of living. Faith is also a way of seeing. The old adage is true: seeing is believing. But the opposite is even truer: believing is seeing.

Most of us miss most of what God speaks to us. Some of us claim that we have never heard God’s voice:

I know people who claim they have never heard the voice of God. And that may be true, if we’re referencing His audible voice. But you have seen His voice. Absolutely everything that exists is a visible echo of those four words: Let there be light.

Addressing the whole question as to why Jesus made mud out of spit, put it on the man’s eyes and asked him to wash it off, Mark comments:

I’m not entirely sure why Jesus had this blind man go and wash, but I’m guessing that he had lived a relatively helpless life. He depended upon everybody for everything! So Jesus didn’t just heal his blind eyes. He restored his dignity by rebuking helplessness.

Part 7 – The Seventh Sign

Chapter 22 Grave Robber

This last part deals with the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the

The Raising of Lazarus

Gospel of John.  The base story is that of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Mark talks about Superman “resurrecting” Lois Lane by turning the world around and the law of entropy.

Chapter 23 Even Now

Mark discusses the timing of Jesus resurrection. We know that He waited after He got the news.  But Mark wants to emphasize that Jesus could have gone earlier to heal him.

But Jesus had already revealed His healing power. It was time to unveil His resurrection power.

This miracle is all about a different perspective on death. Quoting from Dr. Charles Crabtree’s book entitled “God’s Grammar” he writes:

“Never put a comma where God puts a period and never put a period where God puts a comma.”

He tells the story of Susanna who had read Mark’s book The Circle Maker. Susanna wanted to get a book published but didn’t know how. In The Circle Maker, Mark talks about a sonic boom as a breakthrough like what we experience when we pray through some impossible situation. Susanna started praying through for her book to find a publisher shortly after reading about the sonic boom.

Just as Susanna prayed for that boom, a London double-decker drove up, painted with a bus-size billboard that simply said, “Here comes the boom!” Susanna started laughing out loud as people stood and stared at her. Once she regained her composure, Susanna took a picture of the bus and hung it in her kitchen. Shortly thereafter, the publisher Susanna had been circling in prayer offered to publish her book.

As an aside, Mark mentions in this chapter that he tithed on the capital gains he made on the sale of a house – even though he invested those gains in the purchase of another house. I never even considered that and did not tithe the gain on the only two houses I ever sold. Not to be legalistic, but that has given me pause. Lord, show me the generous path!

When Mark quotes the section of this miracle where Jesus wept, he says:

The force of the Greek verb tense suggests that Jesus burst into tears.

Chapter 24 Risk Your Reputation

Mark shares one final insight about experiencing miracles:

And that’s one more secret to experiencing the miraculous: you have to risk your reputation.

Chapter 25 One Little Yes

Mark concludes the book with these words:

The seventh miracle is a snapshot of who Jesus is, what Jesus does. The Grave Robber steals back what the enemy has stolen. Then He gives it back to us, with interest.

This book is very inspirational. At the time, I bought the Kindle version on Amazon for $1.99. Go get it.

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