The religious leaders of Jesus day were always at odds with His teachings. He attempted to turn them from their man-made traditions to a new focus on the meaning and purpose of God’s revelation to man. But they held to an external display of righteousness and cared nothing for God’s heart. External appearances can still be a death knoll for a true heart for God. It’s so easy to get caught up in how things look instead of how things truly are in the inward man. Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 15:6, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.”

Sotheby’s of London auctioned the Gospels of Henry the Lion for $11.7 million. Henry founded the cities of Munich and Lubeck, ruled Saxony and Bavaria, and helped create the German nation. A monk in the Benedictine abbey at Helmarshausen created the masterpiece. It contains 226 leaves of golden velum with forty-one full-page miniatures and thousands of brilliant, colorful illustrations. The West Germans who bought the work saw it as a cultural object—representative of twelfth-century German craftsmanship.

Yet the price paid for the Lion’s Gospels represents only its artistic value. Whether you pay $21.95 or $11.7 million for a Bible, the message is the essence, not the physical appearance. The volume purchased from Sotheby’s went on permanent public display at a research library near Brunswick where it could only be seen, not touched by ordinary hands. Those who do have direct access to it are undoubtedly so intrigued by the art that they pay no attention to the script.

What a tragedy, for it will change no lives that way. Better a marked, frayed copy of Scripture than the Lion masterpiece. The torn, worn pages of a Bible are far greater testimony to its true value than the $11.7 million spent on Henry’s Gospels.

“The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest…” Matthew 13:23