Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
II. The Conflict (v. 4)
a. Jesus confronts his opponents
Mark turns our attention back to the person of Jesus in verse 4. Here Jesus directly addresses the Pharisees and asks them, “It is lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm?” Here Jesus is dealing with the Pharisees wrong understanding of the Sabbath. The Pharisees were only interested in their own interpretations of the law, but Jesus went beyond this to what the law actually meant. Jesus dealt with this question of the Sabbath ethically. He understood the question was not “is it lawful to heal?” The real question was should he do good this man or should he harm this man? For, as Cranfield noted, “To omit to do the good which one could do to someone is to do evil.” The Pharisees did not understand this, and just like we saw in 2:23-28, it is clear that the Pharisees do not properly understand the meaning of the Sabbath. But that is not all that they misunderstood.
The Pharisees also had a wrong view of Jesus. They came there that day with a plot in mind and Jesus knew it. In fact, Jesus’ next question is aimed directly at the Pharisees and their plot. Jesus asked them “is it lawful… to save a life or kill?” A lot of people have offered different interpretations of this passage. Some think that that Jesus asked this question because it would have been the equivalent of killing this man for Jesus not to heal him. However, this man had obviously been in this condition for some time so it would not have been a matter of “life and death” for him to wait another day to be healed. Looking closely at this question I think that Jesus has turned his attention from the man with the paralyzed hand to the Pharisees plotting against Him. This second part of Jesus question is meant to highlight the stark contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees.
Jesus had every intention of healing this man on that day. He had compassion on him, and he wanted him to be able to provide for his needs. He was going to do good to this man, not evil. The Pharisees, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less about this man. Not only that, they were actively plotting against Jesus on that day. This wasn’t just some practical joke they were plotting either. Make no mistake about it; their intention was to have Jesus killed. Mark makes this clear at the end of this passage when he they were trying to figure out “how to destroy him.” Do you see the hypocrisy in this? The Pharisees thought that Jesus was breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath while they were actively trying to have Jesus put to death on the Sabbath. This is exactly what Jesus is getting at with the second part of this question, and by doing so he pierces the depths of the Pharisees heart and reveals their sin.
b. The blindness of sinful hearts
So, how did the Pharisees react when Jesus confronted them? Did they repent of the obvious sin, and seek forgiveness? Well, not exactly. Mark tells us that in response to Jesus’ questioning “they were silent.” They didn’t say a word. Even after their wickedness had been exposed by Jesus, they said nothing! That is because they were blind to their own sin. They hated Jesus so much that they could not see what was obvious to everyone else. They should have realized their sin and tried to figure out how to deal with it. Instead, they remained focused on themselves and their own power. They knew that there was no answer that they could give that would make them look good. IF they answered and said it was lawful to do good and save life then their plot would have been ruined. But surely they couldn’t say that it was lawful to do harm and kill. There was no answer that would help them, so they didn’t answer at all.
The Pharisees were unwilling to admit to the truth even though Jesus pointed out their error, and even though they knew that they had no response. These guys were like the politicians who refuse to admit their mistakes, or the sports fans that refuse to admit that the other team is better even after a loss, or a child who is in trouble with his parents and the only thing he has to say is “I don’t know.”
 Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, 120.