The first thing that comes to mind in answer to the question is: “understanding what ‘following Jesus’ actually means in practice.”
Then I think that there are two other hard things that need to occur before I get to the ‘following Jesus’ part:
taking up my cross
Denying oneself is not the same as following Jesus. Not doing something bad isn’t equivalent to doing something good. But before I can follow him I must somehow get rid of my self-centeredness. Perhaps part of this is fully understanding and accepting that “without Jesus, I can do nothing,” indeed in the full spectrum of things, without him, or outside of him, I am nothing.
I struggle with what “taking up one’s cross” might mean in practice. When Jesus was literally given his cross to carry, it meant carrying the instrument of death to the place of death. And doing so openly - for everyone who wanted to, to see. Just getting to Golgotha was submitting to ridicule, humiliation, and public association with “evil doers” (criminals worthy of death). For Jesus, this was particularly ironic since the highest authority in the land had just an hour or so before said publicly “He has not done anything worthy of death.” So part of the humiliation was having been put through a totally corrupt and twisted judicial process. But what does this mean for me in 2020?
The meaning though, cannot surely be restricted to the walk from the Governor’s palace to Golgotha, because he was “commanded” to do this. For Jesus, “taking up his cross” presumably began when he accepted the role of Saviour “before the foundation of the world.” So what is the equivalent for me, today?
Is the secret of knowing what “following Jesus” in what Jesus says in this passage: “the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” and the parallel statement " the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." (John 5:19) He did this out of love for the Father, and so must we, because in 1 Cor 13 it is very clear that leading a sacrificial life is valueless in God’s eyes if it is not done in love (as described in the subsequent verses).
The fear described in vs 42-43 was earlier described in John 9:22: “His (the young man born blind) parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”
We are supposedly “one body,” one community in the church. This passage raises a question in my mind regarding the extent to which fear of exclusion from membership in this community (let’s say the local congregation) is permitted in the church as a means of forcing individuals to “toe the party line.” I think of other NT passages in which church discipline includes exclusion from fellowship - which in tight communities still existing today is really a drastic step. Is this use of fear consistent with living in the light, or loving one another, if “perfect love casts out fear?”
I noticed a little detail that I found interesting. In John 6:44 Jesus is quoted as saying " No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." But in this passage in Ch 12 he says " I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ Any comments?