“Before The End of Summer!”
Jeremiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 4:1-5
In a few days the birds will be packing to return to the South, to hide from the cold to come. It is almost the end of the summer holidays. Some people can get depressed at the end of the summer. They don’t like the idea of the days turning shorter. They don’t like the look of the leaves that are falling. Not everyone is happy to go back to school. In many ways, summer is a season of freedom and relaxation, and sometimes it is hard to say goodbye to these good days.
Jeremiah takes that picture and applies it to the spiritual life of the nation of Israel. In Jeremiah 8:20 we read: “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” What does Jeremiah mean? It might be helpful to give a brief historical background of Jeremiah’s ministry to understand the reason behind using this image in chapter 8:20. Jeremiah prophesied in troubling times. The Barbarians were rumbling to the north. Israel, the Northern section of the divided Kingdom, had been plundered and destroyed two centuries earlier. By the 6th century B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar ruled the Middle East from Babylon. He would soon over-run Judah and destroy Jerusalem, and the long and dark days of “The Babylonian Exile” would begin.
Jeremiah was sent by God to warn the Southern Kingdom of Israel that their nation was in trouble. His message was simple: commit yourselves as individuals and as a nation to the Lord and God will take care of you and bless you mightily. If you refuse, God will simply walk away and leave you to fend for yourselves. There is always a chance to turn your life around. There is always a chance to get it right.
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not yet saved.” Jeremiah’s message was so simple, yet it was so alarming. Listen again: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not yet saved.” As I mediate this morning on Jeremiah 8:20 and as I think about the days that just fly by, I would like to make two important observations.
First: Missing the Harvest
“The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” In order to understand what Jeremiah is saying here, we need to know the times and seasons of harvest in the Middle East. There are two major harvest seasons in the Middle East: early summer and late summer. Jeremiah 8:20 refers to both of them. “The harvest is past” ~ Jeremiah refers to the time of the early harvest, in the beginning of the summer. This harvest was the first and major chance of survival of the winter to come. But there always was a second chance, in the harvest of the fruits in the end of the summer. “The summer has ended” in Jeremiah 8:20 means the second chance is gone. “The early harvest is past, the summer harvest has ended – and we are not saved.” Jeremiah is saying we, as a nation, have missed one chance after the other. We have missed the early summer and late summer harvest seasons.
God sent Jeremiah, the “Weeping Prophet of Israel” to a nation that cared very little about the God of their fathers. Israel had worshipped false gods, and she refused to have the Lord rule in her life. As a result, Israel went into the Babylonian captivity, and Jerusalem was destroyed. Yet, before all this took place, God sent Jeremiah with a new chance of grace to the nation of Israel. It is true that the people have missed the first and second harvest chances, but here is a new one. It is true that we stand empty handed, no grain, no fruits, but the priceless unfailing love and compassion of God.
Friends, throughout the Scriptures, God always offers a second chance. He allows us to start over. That is the whole story of the Bible. That is the nub and central message which Jesus taught to a very religious man called Nicodemus: “You must be born again.” In other words, “you can begin anew.” There is always a chance for those of us who did not get it right the first time.
Second: What Did We Miss Anyway?
“The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” The nation of Israel did not miss a small thing. They missed the harvest. It is a matter of life and death. They missed their salvation! They missed the time of God’s coming to them. Jesus Himself wept over Jerusalem for the same reason. They missed their last opportunity. When we study the context, Jeremiah is not referring to our modern use of the word “saved” at all. We tend to glorify salvation as a personal gift, our ticket into heaven, which is true, but this is not what Jeremiah means here. Jeremiah is referring to a community event, to the recovery of their equilibrium, the renewing of their way of life, to find themselves again. The little things they had done to bolster their lives and circumstances had caught up with them. All the compromises they had made through the decades were beginning to tip the scales against them. Jeremiah’s prophecy had a dual purpose: to build up and to tear down. To build up those whose countenance had fallen, but to tear down those who were too proud. Jeremiah challenges us to stop for a minute, near the end of summer, and think about where we are and what we should be. God still has a claim upon your life.
Friends, as I conclude, let me summarize my message. Jeremiah likens Israel’s missed opportunity to turn to God and to do its job to that of a missed harvest: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” The purpose of my message this morning is twofold. First, to appreciate the many opportunities the Lord is offering you to grow up your faith. As I look ahead to the next few months here at the Elmer Presbyterian Church, we will have a great variety of ministries for all age groups. We will have ministries for our children, our youth, and our seniors. We are having worship opportunities, Bible study groups, mission opportunities, fellowship for women, and fellowship groups for men. My hope for everyone is to make an effort and allow God to take you into a deeper walk with Him. I urge you not to miss the harvest.
Second, is to stir our hearts for the lost. There is a mission field outside your front door. We are surrounded by people who have missed so many opportunities. They are our co-workers, they are our family members, they are our neighbors, and they are the people we meet on the street every day. May I say to you this morning, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.” The world is full of men and women and young people who need Christ. The question is: “Who will reach them? Who will tell them if we are not doing that?
“The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” In other words, something remains to be done; the job is still unfinished. We have a long way to go and not much time to get there. Don’t delay your opportunity for joy, for newness. Don’t be cautious when God calls you to something new. Some folk I meet know everything and say ‘no thanks.’ Some are like Samuel, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” “The harvest is passed; the summer is ended, and we are not yet saved.” You can do something about it: you can start anew, and you can end renewed. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!