Harvest past, Summer ended but are you saved?

Text Jeremiah 8:20 Time 30 09 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist ChurchWe are very much in an urban setting here and it's easy to forget our dependence on the rain and the sunshine from heaven. I think it's good, however, around this time of the year to sing some harvest hymns and to consider God's goodness to us.
As you know August and the early part of September were quite wet and a week or two back a reporter in The Times was saying that Britain was “facing its worst harvest for at least 40 years as 30 per cent of the country’s grain lies in waterlogged or sodden ground.” Things have been worst in the north of the country. On some farms by mid-September only half the crop had been harvested.
We live in a global economy, of course, and so we are not immediately or directly affected by such things but we cannot forget that they affect us all in the long term. A run of bad harvests would eventually have its impact just as recent happenings in the financial markets are beginning to have their effect in the High Street today.
Something similar can be said about spiritual realities. These too can sometimes seem remote and it is possible to feel as though you are in a hermetically sealed bubble unaffected by the decisions you make and the way you lead your life. But again that is not so. The return of Jesus Christ and the day of judgement is coming and soon we will all face a day of reckoning before God.
In the light of that fact then I want you to draw your attention to a verse found in Jeremiah 8:20. The verse says The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved. I've obviously chosen it because it has the word harvest in it but I'm also just as much interested in the word saved. By nature we are all lost and we need to be saved - from sin, from Satan, from death, from hell. Such talk may seem as remote to us as a farmer talking about the relative merits of wheat, barley, oats or some other crop but the truth is that we need to know about such things – spiritual sowing and reaping, spiritual growth and harvest.
So let's consider this verse together then. Perhaps we are best to begin by saying something about Jeremiah and his times and about the subject of this chapter then look at the verse itself.

1. Consider Jeremiah and the relevance of his warning ministry
Jeremiah is a major Old Testament prophet. He lived in the 7th and 6th Centuries BC. A priest by birth, he grew up in the priestly city of Anathoth. While still young, however, God called him to be a prophet so he left Anathoth for Jerusalem, where he was a great help in good King Josiah's reformation. Josiah's death was a great disappointment to the godly. Jeremiah wrote a lament in response. The kings of Judah who succeeded Josiah were all evil.
There is no mention of Jeremiah during the three year reign of Jehoahaz but in the reign of Jehoiakim we know he was fiercely persecuted. Resentment against him no doubt sprang from his continual warnings that the people were under God's judgement for their sins and would be conquered by the Babylonians. Not all supposed prophets said what Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah lived to see Nebuchadnezzar's invasion in BC 589. Although the invasion was interrupted, Jeremiah warned that the Babylonians would return. For this he was imprisoned. He was still there when the city was taken the following year. The Babylonians released him and showed him kindness, letting him live where he wished. He was later taken to Egypt against his will by the Governor of Judea Johanan. There is no record of his death. Presumably he died at a good age down in Egypt or possibly in Babylon.
Daryl Sensenig is a 24 year old living in Pennsylvania who reads his Bible daily and sometimes posts his thoughts in a blog. Early this year reading about Jeremiah he was stirred to write this
“Jeremiah was an amazing person. He suffered greatly with the Jews because of all their sin even though he was doing what God wanted him to do. He tirelessly told them God's Word even though they continually rejected what he said. He was put in prison, he was cast into a miry dungeon, and some people even wanted to kill him. Yet, he faithfully warned the people of coming judgement. He refused to stop preaching even when it seems he was almost the only person in Jerusalem that was standing for truth.”
How willing are we to stand for truth even when it is unpopular? How easy is it for us to make exceptions to our beliefs or compromise God's truth to make it easier on our life or the lives of others. We need to stand firm on the Bible and never change our biblical position no matter how unpopular it becomes. May God give us the strength and courage to do that.
Jeremiah is a prophet with great relevance to our day as he was a faithful, uncompromising man in days of wickedness and decline. We also live in days when things are bad and, generally speaking, getting worse. As in Jeremiah's day there are plenty of false prophets who will tell us that things are not so bad and that God is about to bless us. We fervently hope it may be so but all the sings are that things are more likely to get worse and so we need to hear that warning note found in Jeremiah and be reminded of the coming judgement.

2. Consider Jeremiah 8 and its warnings
In Jeremiah 8, Jeremiah is typically speaking about the destruction that God is going to bring on his people because of their sins. The section really begins in 7:34 where Jeremiah speaks about the people's idolatry and the coming disaster. Jeremiah wants to show them that these judgements will be terrible but fair.
He begins by describing the bones of the kings and officials of Judah, ... the priests and prophets and of all the people of Jerusalem being removed from their graves. As for the survivors Wherever I banish them, says God they will prefer death to life. That is how bad it would be.
In 4-12 he speaks of the people's sinfulness and their unwillingness to repent – the reason for their judgement. They cling to deceit; they refuse to return. ... No one repents of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? Each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle. They are wilful and senseless in their sin. Like our own generation those living in Jeremiah's day thought themselves very wise but, as he says, they had rejected God's Word. As today the false prophets (11) dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace. Because of such shameless sin, says the Lord, judgement is coming.
In 13-17 he describes the judgement to come. I will take away their harvest, he says. There will be no grapes, no figs. What I have given them God says will be taken from them. The God who gives can also take away. They have sinned against God so judgement will follow. They will say (15) We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there was only terror. Very graphically he says God will send venomous snakes among them, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you. Imagine that poisonous snakes everywhere.
Jeremiah himself is often called the weeping prophet and he is clearly very moved by this prophecy. In the chapter's closing verses (18-22) he turns to God and says O my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me. He imagines his people in exile in the far country devastated and lamenting over what they have lost and asking questions. But God asks questions too - Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols? The exile is most just. In 21 Jeremiah says in God's name Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Finally, he asks, almost in despair, (22) Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? If you go on into Chapter 9 you will see how full of grief Jeremiah was.
Again it is highly relevant. I am not a prophet and so I can't tell you whether we are in danger of imminent economic collapse or if we're going to be invaded sometime in the near future. What I can tell you though is that a final judgement is coming, a day of reckoning, and you need to be ready for it. I am not going to pretend that a little mend here and a little mend there will put things right. I'm not saying Peace, peace, ... when there is no peace. No, I am saying that some of you are clinging to sin like a favourite toy and unless you let go and repent from your wickedness, owning up to your sin and waking up to your true situation then the venomous snakes described here are going to bite you and kill you. It's no good thinking, as these people did, but I'm religious – I come to church, I try to pray. That will save no-one. As Jeremiah says here (7) the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration.Like me you may not have noticed but at this time of year innumerable small birds are on their way to the Mediterranean or Africa. “Along southern coasts, there have been flocks of swallows and house martins having a last feed in the air before heading for the Continent” I read. Apparently bird watchers have been seeing uncommon birds such as hoopoes, wrynecks, black terns and honey buzzards coming into Britain from north and east. We can certainly all feel winter drawing in and we know why the birds are flying south. But what about us? Are we like God's people in Jeremiah's day who were ignorant of the requirements of the LORD?

3. Consider this specific verse and the questions it raises
This is the context then for 8:20 The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved. Let's focus on the specific verse then.
Perhaps you know the verse and sometimes when we are familiar with a thing we don't look at it properly. I've tended to think of the verse as saying "The summer has ended, the harvest is past, and we are not saved". I'm importing into the verse my own cultural context where the order of events is the summer months of June, July and into August, then the harvest period from the end of August to the beginning of October. We would say something like “The summer has gone, the harvest is nearly past, and still people are not saved.”. In Israel, however, where Jeremiah lived things are different. In Israel there were two harvests – the Spring harvest and the Summer harvest. In Spring barley and wheat and other cereals were harvested. Then later came the harvest of the grapes, figs and olives. That is why we have this order The harvest is past, then the summer has ended, and we are not saved. Literally it is “The harvest is past, the time of summer harvest has ended, and we are not saved”. The point then is that one season of hope after another has passed but the looked-for deliverance has not come, and now it seems as though all hope is gone. It is like a proverb. The grain harvest has failed; the fruit-gathering has also proved unproductive. What hope is there?
Another matter to deal with here is who is saying this and in what way or why. The older commentators tend to assume it is God who is speaking. He is saying that the opportunities for repentance are going by but still there is no change and so no salvation. More modern commentators often tend to see it as a statement from the people in their sin and complacency The summer has ended, the harvest is past, and still we are not saved – God still hasn't done anything about our salvation. The verse surely reflects what is in 15 We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there was only terror and so is probably what the people are saying.
Which ever way we take it, however, there are two elements here. Firstly, the passage of time with efforts being made to no avail and then, secondly, the observation that the people are not saved. I think that many here can think of their own situations in these same terms.
1. Are you conscious of much time having passed and all your efforts having accomplished little?
Some of you are older in age. You have been alive for many years. You have done many things. But when you look back over your life you may feel time has escaped you and you have accomplished little. The older we get the greater danger of such feelings. Now the Bible never countenances vain regrets but we must make a sober assessment of where our lives are going and where they have been. Are you at the point where summer has ended and the harvest is past? Time is running out. You cannot assume much more time. Your winter is coming. Now is the time to act. Look to Jesus Christ now. Find strength in him today. Don't leave it any longer.
Some of you are perhaps not so old in years but when you think about it there have been many missed opportunities. Think of how many sermons you've listened to, books you've read perhaps, good conversations you've had and you have been resolved perhaps to live for God and yet it has never come to pass. You too can see summer ... ended and the harvest ... past. How many more opportunities will there be? Now is the time to act. You too must look to Jesus Christ today. Find strength in him right now. Don't leave it any longer.
Some of you are young people. Let's just think about this past year of 2008. It is the last Sunday of the ninth month, just three months before the year's end. Now think what some of you have experienced in this last nine months. You've heard sermons calling you to Christ – over 25 in some cases, over 50 for some may be. On a Friday night many of you have heard similar exhortations to repent and come to Christ. Some have been to camp and heard messages every day or to other things where there have been earnest calls to trust the Lord. And now summer has ended and indeed the harvest is past. Will there be any more opportunities? Winter is coming. Now is the time to act. You must look to Jesus Christ. Find strength in him. Don't leave it any longer.
2. Are you one who is still not saved? That is the question we are left with. If you are saved give thanks to God. Rejoice! Pray for others to be saved too. Listen to them crying out The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved. If you are not saved, if you are one who has to say The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved then wake up to the situation. I know that God often works very slowly. Harvest passes, summer goes and still no-one is saved and then in the deep of winter someone finally comes to salvation. However, we must not make this an excuse. We must not say God will save me when he chooses, there is nothing I can do. You have a duty to act, to repent. Come to the Lord today. Be saved. Why will you die? Be saved. Be delivered. Look to Jesus Christ. Amen.