Good news, everyone. That's right: the narrator promises us "good news" (1:1) right from the beginning. The news is about Jesus, in case you've been under a rock for the past two millennia.
By the way, the NRSV's "good news" is the literal meaning of the Greek, which in the KJV is translated as "gospel." Yep, that gospel.
Don't forget that Jesus is also "Christ" (1:1). In Jewish literature this is the title reserved for kings or a would-be king who would fix everything that's screwed up in the world—big job. You can substitute "Messiah" for "Christ" and catch more of the narrator's drift. "Anointed" also works, as long as it doesn't conjure up images of Jesus lathered in suntan lotion.
If the first few words didn't pique your interest, the narrator now describes Jesus as the "Son of God" (1:1). That's kind of important, right? So it's strange that one big-league manuscript along with some others don't record these words. Did Mark write them or not?
An ancient non-Jewish reader might raise her hand at this point and ask, "What's so special about this 'son of a god'? I mean, how is he different from Heracles or Achilles, who are also sons of gods?" Many ancient people, living under Roman imperial rule, might recall that emperors carried this title, and Jews would hear connotations of royalty, too.
Bottom line: Jesus is competing with some big-time MVPs.
Surprise! The story of Jesus begins not with his birth, but with a prophet named Isaiah, who wrote about 600 years before Jesus was around.
Take one second to check out the quote from 1:2-3, a quote from the Hebrew Bible. Well, hmmm…wait a second. The second part of this is from Isaiah 40:3, yes, but the rest is from Malachi 3:1. Huh? Teachers will have to dock Mark some points for this slight inaccuracy.
John the baptizer appears in the "wilderness" just as the prophet wrote long ago (1:4).
Mobs of people from Judea and Jerusalem come to the river Jordan, where he tells them to turn their lives around and dunks them in the water. The whole procedure causes a symbolic release from their "sins." Which are…?
John dresses in camel's hair and wears a leather belt. This is not stylish now, and it was not stylish then. What's important for Mark is that this outfit makes John look like the prophet Elijah (check out 2 Kings 1:8).
John eats locusts and wild honey. That's gross. Still, you have to admire his pluck and devoted asceticism.
Like a good team player, John wants everyone to know that he's just the warm-up act for someone who is "more powerful" and will baptize "with the holy Spirit" (1:7-8). For generations raised in and after the 80s, the KJV's translation, "holy Ghost," may be far too evocative of Scooby-Doo.